washingtonpost.com  > Education

Teachers Union Hit by Scandal To Elect Officers

Interim Administration to End

By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 28, 2004; Page C01

Two years after the leaders of the Washington Teachers' Union were forced to resign because of a multimillion-dollar embezzlement scandal, the union is starting the process of electing new officers.

Ballots will be mailed to union members tomorrow and will list four candidates vying to succeed Barbara A. Bullock, who ran the organization for nearly a decade before she emerged as a central figure in the theft of $4.6 million in union funds from 1995 to 2002. The deadline to return ballots is Dec. 20, and the results will be made public a few days later.

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The election effectively will end the interim administration imposed on the union in January 2003 by the American Federation of Teachers. Since then, the Washington Teachers' Union, which says it has 5,000 members, has been run by AFT official George C. Springer.

The election is being held under a new constitution -- the first changes since 1985 -- approved last month by members. It includes measures providing more stringent oversight of union officials and staff and increasing membership participation in key decisions through a new delegate assembly. One change, for example, requires that any staff member running for a union office take a leave of absence during the campaign.

"We want a union that is open," said Terence Cooper, the union's director of communications. "We want a union that is transparent. We got a real black eye. We want to do this correctly and to have an organization that looks out for teachers."

The presidential race reflects some of the same fault lines that created dissension in the union before Bullock's resignation. For example, Rachel Hicks, a former ally of Bullock's, is running against George Parker, a teacher and longtime critic of the union president. Hicks is a field representative supervisor for the union and has taken a leave of absence from that job. Also running for the post are Elizabeth Davis and Cleopatra Lawton, both teachers. All of the candidates are promising changes and open administrations.

Bullock pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy and other charges in the embezzlement scheme and is serving a nine-year prison sentence. Prosecutors alleged that she and several of her associates spent union money on such personal luxuries as artwork, jewelry, designer clothes and furnishings.

Gwendolyn M. Hemphill, who served as Bullock's executive assistant, and James O. Baxter II, the former union treasurer, were indicted last year and are awaiting trial. The case has been slowed by skirmishes between lawyers and pretrial arguments.

Others who have pleaded guilty include Leroy Holmes, Bullock's former chauffeur, and Michael Martin, Hemphill's son-in-law. Holmes was accused of cashing union checks worth $1.2 million, keeping some of the money and giving the rest to union officials. Martin admitted creating a phony company that was used to launder union money.

Still pending is a civil lawsuit filed against the union's former executive board and trustees and the AFT by Nathan Saunders, a teacher at Anacostia Senior High School. He alleges that they made the embezzlement possible by failing to properly oversee the union's finances. Saunders is running for vice president of the union on Parker's slate of candidates.

The union also owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in dues to the AFT. Cooper said he had no details on the arrangement made for the local to pay that money and referred the question to the federation. Alex Wohl, a spokesman for the federation, did not return phone calls.

The administration run by Springer was to have lasted for 18 months but was extended until a new constitution could be approved, Cooper said.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company


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