Teacher Union News: Disputed Elections and Missing Funds

Published March 1, 2005

The Washington Teachers Union and United Teachers of Dade (UTD, Florida), currently under administration by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), are enduring accusations of vote fraud by losing candidates for the office of president in elections designed to allow the two unions to undertake local self-rule.

In Florida, losing presidential candidate Shirley Johnson filed election complaints claiming poor ballot security, secret meetings, bias on the part of AFT Administrator Mark Richard, and an “attempt to confuse members.”

“This election was tainted by fraud,” Johnson told the Miami Herald. “We are asking for a full investigation.”

Johnson was defeated by Karen Aronowitz, who turned a 19 percent deficit in the first round of voting into a 52-48 percent victory in the December 2004 runoff. Aronowitz and her caucus won the top three union executive positions.

Johnson’s tenure as UTD secretary-treasurer under former president Pat Tornillo was a key issue in the campaign. In August 2003, Tornillo resigned and pled guilty to fraud and tax evasion for stealing union funds, which an AFT audit estimated totaled almost $3.5 million.

Johnson and her caucus have established a legal fund to file suit to contest the presidential election.

However, Richard seemed satisfied the results were true and accurate. He introduced Aronowitz and her slate to the Miami-Dade school board and posted the election certification by TrueBallot, Inc., an election services company from Bethesda, Maryland, on the UTD Web site.

Barring any finding of fraud, an Aronowitz victory will be seen as a positive outcome for teacher unions across the country. Her election over Tornillo’s former secretary-treasurer gives hope that, at least in extreme circumstances, it is possible for teacher union members to clean house.

DC Runoff Concluded

In Washington, DC, a low turnout in the general election led to a runoff between a pair of candidates similar to those in Miami. George Parker, a critic of former president Barbara Bullock, received 520 votes, while Rachel Hicks, described as a former ally of Bullock’s, received 514 votes. According to reports in the February 2 issue of the Washington Post, Parker won the runoff by a 999 to 816 vote.

Last year, Bullock pled guilty to conspiracy and mail fraud related to misappropriation of member dues for her personal use. A U.S. District judge sentenced her to nine years in prison, three years in a halfway house, and 3,000 hours of community service and ordered her to pay $4.6 million in restitution to the union.

Even before the runoff had taken place, Elizabeth Davis, the eventual third-place finisher, told local reporters she planned to challenge the results, based on numerous voting irregularities already then apparent. For example, she claimed many teachers did not receive a ballot and then found it difficult to obtain one through the union.

“We can’t start off on this kind of note,” Davis said.

Missing Fund Mysteries

  • Evelyn Johnson of the Bibb County Association of Educators in Georgia was indicted on four counts of fiduciary theft in December 2004. She is accused of taking more than $34,000 from that NEA-affiliated organization.
  • Investigators for the New York State Department of Labor claim officers of the Shoreham-Wading River Teachers Association collected more than $300,000 in insurance overpayments from the school district and “created a system to cover up the use of union funds for personal expenses.” Carl Korn, spokesman for the AFT-affiliated New York State United Teachers, called the findings “minor bookkeeping problems.” The state attorney general will decide whether to take action.
  • About $97,000 in dues collected from teachers in Lawrence, Kansas were never transmitted to the Kansas NEA during the 2003-04 school year, according to police. The union reported the alleged theft to police and an investigation is ongoing. The Lawrence Journal-World reported “police suspect theft and forgery and that it was an inside job.”

Mike Antonucci ([email protected]) is director of the Education Intelligence Agency, which conducts public education research, analysis, and investigations. This material first appeared in his weekly Communiqué on teacher union activities, which is available at http://www.eiaonline.com.