Four Dallas Unions Vie To Lead Teacher Representation

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Thousands of Dallas teachers, school librarians, and counselors will cast their votes for a second time this week to decide which of four unions will represent them before the school board. An initial election was invalidated last week in the beleaguered district after three of the organizations challenged the process.

Under a policy change approved last spring, one organization, elected by all four groups, will chair a Coordinating Teacher Organization that will work with district officials and the school board to address issues raised by each of the unions. Currently, the district's teachers and other employees are represented by the Alliance of Dallas Educators, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers; the Classroom Teachers of Dallas, a National Education Association affiliate; and two independent organizations, the Association of Texas Professional Educators and the Texas Classroom Teachers Association. Representatives of each group now communicate with school officials through the district's professional-consultation committee, which is chaired by a district administrator.

"Dallas needs one organization that can send a clear, concise, and unconfused message about teacher and classroom concerns," said Matt Jacob, a spokesman for the Alliance of Dallas Educators. "Collective bargaining is prohibited in this state, but we still see the value of having one organization that's accountable."

About 60 percent of the 9,300 teachers in the 158,000-student district are members of one of the organizations; all district teachers, librarians, and counselors can vote in the election.

The Alliance, the largest of the groups, is favored to win the leading role on the board. Teacher assistants and support personnel are ineligible to vote. In fliers promoting the election, the AFT affiliate has guaranteed that issues raised by all the groups, such as pay and health benefits, would be given equal weight.

First Election Nullified

The initial election, conducted Oct. 30 by the district's employee-relations office, was invalidated by the election committee last week after the committee found numerous rules violations and inconsistencies in the voting. At some schools, the number of ballots did not match the number of eligible voters, members wore insignia of a specific organization despite a regulation prohibiting campaigning on election day, and principals failed to sign voting lists.

Union officials said last week the vote tallying was stopped too soon in the process to call a winner.

The Alliance of Dallas Educators proposed the policy change in a meeting of the professional-consultation committee in January. But the other employee groups, which have protested the new policy from the beginning, tabled the proposal. Alliance officials then asked then-Superintendent Yvonne Gonzalez to approve the change, which she did last April.

"We were happy with the professional-consultation committee. We didn't see any reason for changing it at this time," said Roy H. Kemble III, the president of the Classroom Teachers of Dallas.

Representatives of the Association of Texas Professional Educators said they also were satisfied with the channels of communication provided by the committee. The election, they charge, is a way for the Alliance to restrict the voice of competing organizations.

"Why should we change something that works?" said Dianne Reed, the president of the Dallas chapter of the professional educators' group. It has some 1,200 members, including administrators, in Dallas. "We've seen in other districts in Texas that when one group gets a voice, it eventually ends up being an exclusive consultation," she said.

A Matter of Timing

Other Texas districts, including San Antonio and Corpus Christi, have similar coordinating committees. In San Antonio, Mr. Jacob said, leadership of the committee has alternated between the AFT and the NEA affiliates in the past decade, ensuring that one organization does not predominate.

Mr. Kemble said that, aside from the problems that plagued the initial election, the changeover could not have come at a worse time. The district has been bedeviled by scandal recently, and Ms. Gonzalez's stormy tenure ended last month after she pleaded guilty to federal charges of misusing district funds. ("In Plea Deal, Dallas Supt. Admits Theft," Oct. 15, 1997.)

"The election was ill-timed, given all the other things going on in our district," Mr. Kemble said.

Alliance officials disagree, saying that what the district needs most is to focus again on issues of teaching and learning.

"This is one district so in need of change on a variety of levels," said the Alliance's Mr. Jacob. "The real tragedy is that teachers and students have been lost in the shuffle... . The value of this election is that it starts to put teachers and classroom concerns on the front burner."

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