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Rhee still a factor in teacher elections
His campaign literature lists 32 initiatives that he said he have led to improved working conditions for teachers, including the new financial package, additional planning periods for elementary school teachers and tuition reimbursement for instructors taking graduate courses. Parker also said that when he took office in 2005, after a ruinous financial scandal that resulted in former union president Barbara Bullock going to federal prison for theft of union funds, he used his personal credit card to guarantee payment to WTU vendors.
But Parker has drawn charges that he has improperly used union resources to boost his campaign, accusations that could provide the basis for a legal challenge should he win. The American Federation of Teachers, the union's national parent organization, which has intervened to run the election after a series of internal disputes delayed it for several months, rebuked Parker last month for using the union's "robo-call" system to communicate with teachers about the election.
In one Oct. 12 message, Parker cautioned teachers "that we are in an election season so many persons may make false claims for their own political benefit." The AFT said it has referred the matter to the U.S. Labor Department.
Last week, Parker's spokeswoman, Monique Lenoir, sent out an e-mail announcing that the union will be meeting with "targeted groups," including new teachers, librarians and instructional coaches.
Parker said he is only doing his job as union president. Saunders said it represents a belated attempt by Parker to build bridges to segments of the union that he has ignored. "He's doing things to suggest that he is somebody other than who he is at the last minute," Saunders said.
The contest is the endgame in a long series of skirmishes between two union leaders who came to office as allies on a reform ticket in the wake of the Bullock scandal. Parker said Saunders has been a divisive influence, focused only on advancing his political fortunes. Saunders has sued Parker unsuccessfully in federal court for allegedly abridging his First Amendment rights after Parker ordered him not to talk to the media. Earlier this year, the union executive board, which is friendly to Parker, zeroed out Saunders's $131,000 annual union salary and refused to renew his leave of absence from teaching duties, saying he'd been negligent in his duties as vice president.
Saunders, now teaching U.S. history at H.D. Woodson High School, provided the board with a log of his daily activities, some of which included single entries on certain days. Saunders said the log is "merely a snapshot" and not a comprehensive account of his union work. In September, the AFT ordered the union to restore Saunders's pay and leave status. The executive board has offered to reinstate Saunders, but without back pay. A federal court last month dismissed Saunders's challenge to the matter.