George Parker, newly elected president of the Washington Teachers Union, said he wants the organization to shed its previous association with corruption and emerge with an image as a group of reformers who are taking a lead in improving D.C. schools.
Parker, a mathematics teacher at Eliot Junior High School in Northeast Washington and a former field representative at the local office, will soon begin a 2 1/2-year term after a rocky period during which his predecessor was imprisoned for embezzling $4.6 million in union funds and the local was taken over by representatives from the national office.
George Parker has worked in the D.C. school system for 20 years.
_____The Teachers Union_____
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"I want to change the public's view of what a union is. They think of us as being concerned mostly about money and filing grievances," said Parker, who has worked in the D.C. school system for 20 years.
"We want the public to know we care about education . . . and it's not just about fighting," he said, adding that he wants to ensure that all D.C. classrooms are wired for the Internet and to build stronger ties with parents, the school board and the community. "We want to build a world-class education system in D.C."
In a runoff last month, Parker defeated union official Rachel Hicks 999 to 816, union spokesman Terence Cooper said. The votes were tabulated this week, Cooper said.
The union is attempting to rebuild after a scandal involving former president Barbara A. Bullock, who was accused in 2002 of embezzling union funds and spending the money on such personal luxuries as jewelry, furs, designer clothing, artwork and furnishings. Bullock, who had served as president for nearly a decade, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and other charges last year and is serving a nine-year prison term.
Also charged in the scheme were Gwendolyn M. Hemphill, Bullock's executive assistant; James O. Baxter II, former union treasurer; Michael Martin, Bullock's son-in-law; and Leroy Holmes, Bullock's former chauffeur.
Hemphill and Baxter are awaiting trial: Holmes and Martin have pleaded guilty. Holmes was accused of cashing $1.2 million in checks, keeping some money and distributing the rest to union officials. Martin acknowledged that he created a phony company that laundered money.
Parker, who worked in the union office from 1992 to 1997, said Bullock fired him after he voiced suspicions about her handling of union money.
"I challenged her. I questioned her on why she wasn't putting allocated funds into the pension plan," Parker said. "I went to the Department of Labor, and she felt she needed to fire me."
Parker's election marks the union's return to self-rule, with the American Federation of Teachers turning over the reins to local representatives.
The union, Parker said, has adopted a new constitution and new policies aimed at preventing fraud. A 21-member assembly will provide "a second set of eyes and give us oversight," he said. The union also has a full-time accountant.
The takeover by the AFT "was difficult," Parker said. "I feel wonderful we are returning to self-governance, which is needed to establish political and community ties."
Parker described his management style as "participatory." In contrast, he described Bullock as an "autocratic leader."
His colleagues at Eliot Junior High School said he is well-suited to lead the 4,500-member union.
"He was an outstanding teacher, and he did work well with the students," said Mae Gray, vice principal at Eliot.