Teacher union officials are quick to paste a “scandal” label on any misstep, misstatement, or hint of wrongdoing–intentional or otherwise–by charter school and voucher school operators. But over the past six months, the label has been more appropriately applied to the activities of teacher union affiliates themselves.
For example, the homes and offices of former officials of the Washington DC teacher union were targeted by an FBI investigation last December. Subsequently, the parent union–the American Federation of Teachers (AFT)–filed a racketeering lawsuit against the affiliate’s officials, charging an illegal diversion of at least $5 million in member dues. The diverted funds allegedly were used for the purchase of such items as jewelry, furs, custom-made clothing, artwork, wine, and home entertainment systems. (See “Massive Fraud Alleged in DC Teacher Union,” School Reform News, March 2003.)
Based on the weekly Communiqué of teacher union activity compiled by Mike Antonucci of the Education Intelligence Agency, the following is a brief summary of other recent scandals involving affiliates of both the AFT and the National Education Association (NEA). Further details are available from the Communiqué‘s online archives at www.eiaonline.com.
Money Siphoned from Miami-Dade Union
Less than 24 hours after Antonucci’s April 28 Communiqué questioned whether the United Teachers of Dade (UTD) had lost members and whether the Florida Education Association (FEA) would hike its dues, the FBI and Miami police raided UTD headquarters with a sealed search warrant and removed financial records concerning President Pat Tornillo. According to the Miami Herald, the warrant targeted the long-time president and his personal and financial dealings, not the union itself.
That distinction provided little consolation to union members when confidential memos obtained by Antonucci showed what union officials had been intent on keeping from them: UTD financial problems dating back three years, and dues in arrears for more than a year.
According to UTD chief financial officer James Angleton, the union paid for Tornillo’s home phone bills, utilities, insurance, liquor, and Christmas gifts. Credit card statements obtained by the Miami Herald showed at least $350,000 in union dues were spent on tailored suits, vacations, jewelry, cable TV service, artwork, and groceries for the union president. Union dues also paid for a $22,510 a year personal maid for Tornillo, who received a $243,000 annual salary and a $42,700 annual stipend to cover his business expenses.
“There were no internal controls, no checks and balances,” Angleton told the Miami Herald.
It was subsequently discovered that UTD was delinquent in payment of about $300,000 for the supplemental insurance premiums of 4,500 members. Tornillo took a leave of absence immediately after the FBI raid and turned UTD’s day-to-day management over to UTD Secretary/Treasurer Shirley B. Johnson, who was named acting president. The AFT appointed AFT official and labor lawyer Mark Richard as the UTD administrator.
One of Richard’s key concerns is the surge of member resignations since the FBI raid. He told Tiempos del Mundo that members need to resolve the scandals, not abandon ship.
Mass. Union Embezzler Gambled It Away
Prosecutors have charged Richard Anzivino, former finance director of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, with larceny for writing 270 checks to himself for a total of $802,000 from 1996 to 2002. He used the money for gambling at the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun Casinos in Connecticut, according to prosecutors and union officials.
“I only had one question from my members,” Brockton Education Association President Joe O’Sullivan told the Boston Herald, “–was it fast women or slow horses?”
Challenge Backfires on NYC Union Chief
When New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently sent layoff notices to 848 classroom aides to address a budget emergency, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) quickly struck back with a racial discrimination lawsuit against the city because the employees are predominantly minorities.
A curious New York Post reporter examined the union’s own minority employment practices and found 85 percent of the union’s 33 highest-paid employees are white, 60 percent of city teachers are white, and only 15 percent of the city’s students are white.
UFT President Randi Weingarten in May also blasted Bloomberg over his education reform proposal, called the Children First Initiative, a plan she had earlier agreed to support. She challenged city officials to teach one period a week so they would “understand why teachers need to be supported and respected.” She claimed she had “taught, sometimes full time, sometimes part time, at Clara Barton High School for six years.”
A curious reporter from The Village Voice examined attorney Weingarten’s teaching record and questioned whether she had actually completed the required two years of full-time service before she was awarded her teacher certification in September 1996. The Voice found she had taught full-time for only one semester during the five years prior to her certification, mostly teaching for only about 41 days a year.
Rebellion in Louisiana
After voting to reject a dues increase at a special representative assembly on April 12, members and local officers of the NEA-affiliated Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) began circulating petitions to recall local President Carol Davis and demand the LAE board fire Executive Director Gene Neely. A $10 dues increase already had been approved at a representative assembly last November when concerns arose about fewer members, higher dues, and reduced services.
At the November meeting, “Concerned LAE Members” distributed a flyer to delegates titled, “No Confidence in Our President and Executive Director.” Included in the flyer’s 20 complaints against LAE executives was one about Neely hiring his wife as a temporary employee.
When the rank-and-file discovered the LAE board of directors in March had proposed an additional $10 dues hike, a new flyer appeared titled, “Stop Monkeying Around With Our Dues Dollars!” The new flyer described how union officers and executives had a “nice big new building to work in” and were compensated generously. “Why do they need the money?” the flyer asked.
San Francisco Teachers Oust President
Members of the dual-affiliated United Educators of San Francisco (UESF) recently voted to replace local President Kent Mitchell and his cabinet with UESF Secretary Dennis Kelly and a slate of challengers.
Under Mitchell’s presidency, UESF purchased a new headquarters building near Fishermen’s Wharf, spent down surpluses to pay for it, and then failed to pay dues to national and state affiliates.
Although UESF has resumed the dues payments, its own dues revenues are down and its application for a property tax exemption was rejected.
George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].
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