School & District Management

Embattled Unions Make Progress in Regaining Control

By Linda Jacobson — November 16, 2004 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

After financial scandals that led to prison sentences for their presidents, the Washington Teachers Union in the nation’s capital and the United Teachers of Dade in Miami will elect new leaders over the next few weeks, one measure of returning the unions to local control.

The members of both locals are expected to begin casting ballots at the end of this month. Voting for WTU officers will run through Dec. 21, while a runoff for the UTD presidency is scheduled to conclude Dec. 10.

The American Federation of Teachers has been in charge of its District of Columbia affiliate since its former leader, Barbara A. Bullock, pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $4 million from members over seven years. Ms. Bullock, who spent much of the money on designer clothing and furs, is now serving a nine-year sentence in federal prison.

Last month, the WTU approved a new constitution, which George Springer, the administrator in charge of the organization, said will “provide for more membership participation.”

“There’s greater accountability—not just for the officers, but for the members,” he said last week.

The union will no longer have membership meetings, in which “any 100 people could make decisions for 5,000,” Mr. Springer said. Instead, it will hold an annual representative assembly.

“We want greater checks and balances,” Mr. Springer said.

The next step will be to hold the elections. Nominations were expected to be turned in from the members by late last week.

The federal case against four others who stand accused in the Washington scandal is not moving along quite so smoothly, however.

Because of pretrial arguments and other delays, a trial has not yet been scheduled for two other union officials who worked for Ms. Bullock, or for two accountants who are charged with falsifying documents to cover the crimes.

Fraud Debated in Runoff

In Florida’s Miami-Dade County, where UTD members have been voting on a new contract with the 338,000-student school system, elections for officers were held last month. But because no one received a majority of the votes for a number of offices, including the presidency, a runoff was scheduled, beginning Nov. 29.

Karen Aronowitz

Members there will decide between Shirley B. Johnson, who received 47 percent of the votes, and Karen Aronowitz, a high school English teacher and language arts department chairwoman, who received almost 29 percent.

Shirley B. Johnson

Ms. Johnson, a 3rd grade teacher, served as the union’s secretary-treasurer under Pat L. Tornillo Jr., who pleaded guilty to defrauding the union and stealing roughly $650,000 between 1998 and 2001. Mr. Tornillo, who spent much of the money on travel, is serving a 27-month federal prison sentence.

That painful history has not totally been left behind.

Ms. Aronowitz charges that Ms. Johnson was partly to blame for the crisis and that she didn’t report Mr. Tornillo’s thefts. Ms. Johnson has maintained her innocence and said that she had little access to financial information.

‘Come Back Strong’

Trust in the 15,800-member union has not been completely broken, however, said Mark Richard, the AFT administrator for the UTD.

During what he said “couldn’t be a greater crisis,” about 1,000 members left the union, but roughly 4,100 new members have joined.

“People have really responded to an open, participatory union,” Mr. Richard added.

While it will continue to advise the new leaders, the AFT will officially end its control of the UTD in April.

Alex Wohl, a spokesman for the AFT, said that the Washington and Miami-Dade affiliates’ experience shows that “unions can police themselves.”

“They’ve really come back strong,” he said. “The answer to these kinds of crimes is more membership involvement.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the November 17, 2004 edition of Education Week as Embattled Unions Make Progress in Regaining Control

Events

Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Chronic Teacher Shortage: Where Do We Go From Here?  
Join Peter DeWitt, Michael Fullan, and guests for expert insights into finding solutions for the teacher shortage.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
The Science of Reading: Tools to Build Reading Proficiency
The Science of Reading has taken education by storm. Learn how Dr. Miranda Blount transformed literacy instruction in her state.
Content provided by hand2mind
Student Achievement K-12 Essentials Forum Tutoring Done Right: How to Get the Highest Impact for Learning Recovery
Join us as we highlight and discuss the evidence base for tutoring, best practices, and different ways to provide it at scale.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Opinion Your School Leadership Needs More Student Voice
When one Virginia principal moved from middle school to high school, he knew he would need to find new ways of soliciting student feedback.
S. Kambar Khoshaba
3 min read
Illustration of students holding speech bubbles.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week via Canva
School & District Management First Latina Selected to Lead National Principals Group
Raquel Martinez is a middle school principal in Pasco, Wash.
3 min read
Raquel Martinez, the principal of Stevens Middle School, in Pasco, Wash., was named president-elect of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. She’s the first Latina to hold the position.
Raquel Martinez, the principal of Stevens Middle School, in Pasco, Wash., was named president-elect of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. She’s the first Latina to hold the position.
Courtesy of the National Association of Secondary School Principals
School & District Management Four Things to Know From a State's Push to Switch Schools to Heat Pumps
Installing a heat pump is complex, but the payoff is well worth it, says an expert in Maine who's pushing their adoption in schools.
4 min read
Close up of a heat pump against a brick wall
E+/Getty
School & District Management 3 Things That Keep Superintendents in Their Jobs
Two experienced leaders say strong relationships with the community and school board make all the difference.
5 min read
Magnet attracting employee candidates represented by wooden dolls
iStock/Getty