Runoff needed in Washington Teachers' Union presidential vote

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 27, 2010; 11:04 PM

Washington Teachers' Union President George Parker, who negotiated a contract with Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee that triggered significant changes in how teachers are managed and paid, finished second in balloting for a third term Wednesday to his former running mate turned vocal critic.

Parker, president of the union since 2005, was edged out by General Vice President Nathan Saunders, 334 to 313, in a contest in which only 881 mail-in ballots were cast by the 4,200-member union.

Saunders fell short, however, of the 51 percent majority required to win outright. Phelps High School teacher Elizabeth Davis finished third with 197 votes; H.D. Cooke Elementary teacher Christopher Bergfalk had 37 votes.

Teachers approved the contract, which included a 20 percent pay raise over five years, by a healthy margin this past summer. But Saunders, Davis and Bergfalk all contend that Parker ceded too much ground at the bargaining table.

The pact gives school principals more control over teacher hiring and establishes a pay-for-performance system. Such systems have traditionally been unpopular with unionized teachers.

Parker has also been criticized within the union for the advent of the IMPACT evaluation system, which uses improvement in student test scores to assess the effectiveness of some teachers. But Rhee was not legally required to negotiate the evaluation system with the union.

Saunders said Wednesday evening that the results reflect teachers' unhappiness with Parker. "I'm looking forward to the next round in a runoff," he said. That vote will take place by mail sometime in November, but ballots may not be tabulated until December.

Parker said the turnout was the lowest the union had ever seen and reflected apathy more than any repudiation of his leadership.

"We've got to do a better job getting our message out and getting teachers inspired for the runoff," Parker said.

The election, originally scheduled for this past May, has been contentious and protracted, slowed by internal disputes over nominating petitions, voter eligibility and a controversial decision by the union's executive board to strip Saunders of his vice presidential duties, charging that he had neglected his responsibilities. Saunders has denied the charges.

The strife caused the parent American Federation of Teachers to take control of the election.

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