Teaching Profession

Former Union President Is at Center of Probe

By Karla Scoon Reid — January 29, 2003 4 min read

No one suspected that Barbara A. Bullock might be capable of stealing millions from the pockets of teachers—the very people for whom she had advocated over the past 25 years.

Now, Ms. Bullock is a central figure in a federal investigation into whether she did just that, and is a target of two related civil lawsuits as well. Though no criminal charges have been filed against her or others who are under scrutiny, the apparent irregularities prompted the American Federation of Teachers last week to take over the local affiliate she led in the nation’s capital.

Ms. Bullock had already been forced to resign as the president of the Washington Teachers’ Union in September and has not been available for comment.

Often decked out in full-length fur coats and accompanied by her chauffeur, Ms. Bullock drew attention with her distinctive appearance. But as the top officer of the union, she was generally perceived as fighting for better raises and working conditions for her 5,000 members in the District of Columbia public schools.

Ms. Bullock and two other former high-level employees of the union are now suspected of having embezzled or improperly used more than $5 million of the WTU’s funds. An AFT audit of the Washington union maintains that Ms. Bullock alone had redirected about $2 million to finance her shopping habits and penchant for high living since 1996.

While Ms. Bullock has remained silent, a murky and contradictory picture of the former union president is developing. She had held that post since 1994.

District of Columbia school officials could not locate Ms. Bullock’s personnel file last week to provide details about her employment history. But those who know her believe she had taught elementary school in the city.

Union Career

Later, in the late 1970s, she apparently became a union field representative and worked for many years under the Washington union’s longtime president, William H. Simons. Mr. Simons declined to comment last week.

Ms. Bullock ran for the top leadership post in 1993. According to an article in The Washington Post, she attacked then-President Jimmie C. Jackson in her campaign literature for alleged financial irregularities.

Ms. Bullock lost the election, but the AFT invalidated the results because of voting irregularities. Ms. Bullock won the 1994 election by fewer than 100 votes.

“We will work to restore to members the rights, benefits, and trust that have been lost under the present administration,” Ms. Bullock was quoted in a Post article as saying after that election.

As the head of an influential labor organization, Ms. Bullock associated with the movers and shakers on the local Washington scene. An imposing woman, standing roughly 6 feet tall, Ms. Bullock wore bold jewelry, wigs, and custom-made clothes, accented by manicured nails and tinted glasses.

She took great care to cultivate her look. According to an affidavit filed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which seized clothing, jewelry, artwork, and other items from her home in December, her assistant’s son-in-law claimed she paid him for advising her on clothing purchases. (“Alleged Theft From D.C. Union Yields Probe,” Jan. 8, 2003.)

“The purse matched the shoes, matched the coat, matched everything,” said one source.

Some teachers and education observers considered Ms. Bullock to have been a competent and honest voice for her members, while others found her antagonistic and ineffective.

Jean Boulden, a teacher at the city’s Bruce-Monroe Elementary School, admired her tenacity: “Bullock was like a bull. She had the right name. She took a stand and turned a situation to favor her. She had excellent leadership skills.”

But Virginia Walden-Ford, the executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice, described Ms. Bullock as a rambling speaker and an ineffective leader.

Under her leadership, Ms. Walden-Ford noted, the union did not mount much of a fight over the city’s rapidly growing charter schools. A 1999 union protest opposing the conversion of a public school to charter status fizzled when only Ms. Bullock and six other union members attended. “I never took her seriously,” she said.

Sincerity Questioned

People who dealt with Ms. Bullock also offered a mixed picture of the union president, who was paid a salary of $107,000.

Franklin L. Smith described Ms. Bullock as antagonistic and untrustworthy and the union itself as weak.

“I never felt that [Ms. Bullock’s] statements about children and teachers were as sincere as people perceived them to be,” added Mr. Smith, who was the superintendent in the nation’s capital from 1991 to 1996. He is now a vice president with Lightspan Inc., a San Diego-based educational software and technology company.

In addition, Mr. Smith said, it was clear that Ms. Bullock believed that her alliance with the city and the mayor’s office was more valuable than her relationships with school officials.

Ms. Bullock, a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 2000, gave thousands of dollars to the Democratic Party that year using union credit cards, according to the AFT audit.

But Iris J. Toyer, the co-chairwoman of Parents United for the D.C. Public Schools, said Ms. Bullock was always capable of articulating teachers’ concerns, adding that she secured a good raise for teachers in 2001—19 percent over three years.

Still, within the union, Ms. Bullock had her critics.

Jeff Bale, a Lincoln Middle School teacher and union representative, said Ms. Bullock became belligerent when questioned during membership meetings and rarely visited schools.

“The attitude for many was that people have been using WTU funds as a cash cow for years,” he said.

Staff Writer Julie Blair contributed to this report.

Related Tags:

Events

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
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Culturally Relevant Pedagogy to Advance Educational Equity
Schools are welcoming students back into buildings for full-time in-person instruction in a few short weeks and now is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and systems to build
Content provided by PowerMyLearning
Classroom Technology Webinar Making Big Technology Decisions: Advice for District Leaders, Principals, and Teachers
Educators at all levels make decisions that can have a huge impact on students. That’s especially true when it comes to the use of technology, which was activated like never before to help students learn
Professional Development Webinar Expand Digital Learning by Expanding Teacher Training
This discussion will examine how things have changed and offer guidance on smart, cost-effective ways to expand digital learning efforts and train teachers to maximize the use of new technologies for learning.

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

Teaching Profession Opinion Teachers Were Told to 'Give Grace' as the Pandemic Started. They Did That and Much More
Districts offered little guidance otherwise, writes researcher Lora Bartlett.
Lora Bartlett
4 min read
Illustration of teachers working
F. Sheehan/Getty
Teaching Profession Educators of Color: Schools Need to Better Support Racial Justice Efforts
A new survey of educators of color finds that few received any training for addressing racism and violence with their students.
5 min read
Image of a teacher and students.
nadia_bormotova/iStock/Getty
Teaching Profession Opinion I've Studied Teachers for 20 Years. The Pandemic Was Their Ultimate Challenge
Researcher Lora Bartlett wondered what was happening behind the scenes as teachers' cheerful voices radiated from her daughters' computers.
Lora Bartlett
4 min read
Opinion Bartlett1 KNOW THYSELF LINCOLN
Lincoln Agnew for Education Week
Teaching Profession Q&A Teachers' Union President: Say 'No to Censorship, and Yes to Teaching the Truth'
National Education Association President Becky Pringle discusses some of the challenges and priorities for the nation's largest teachers' union.
8 min read
National Education Association President Becky Pringle delivers a keynote address.
National Education Association President Becky Pringle delivers a keynote address at the union's representative assembly in early July.
Moses Mitchell/National Education Association