Teachers Union Endorses Williams
By Vanessa Williams
The Washington Teachers Union endorsed Anthony A. Williams in his bid for the Democratic mayoral nomination yesterday and in doing so snubbed Kevin Chavous, who chairs the D.C. Council's education committee.
In making the endorsement, the teachers broke ranks with the city's labor coalition, the Metropolitan Washington Council, AFL-CIO, which formally backed Chavous last week.
Barbara Bullock, president of the 5,000-member labor organization for the city's classroom teachers, said Williams shared the union's goal of implementing reforms that have been begun by D.C. Schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman.
"He's interested in providing smaller class sizes, in providing more materials for the children . . . and realizing that we do need additional finances for them," Bullock said, as she sat next to Williams during a brief news conference at the teacher union's headquarters on K Street NW.
Bullock downplayed the rift between the labor coalition and her union. She said the endorsement means that the union members half of whom live in the District, she said would help Williams raise money and lobby voters through phone banks, door-to-door canvassing and working the polls on election day.
Williams, the city's former chief financial officer, has pledged to make improving public schools his top priority if he is elected.
Although the mayor has no direct control over the school system and even less since the D.C. financial control board took authority for the schools away from the elected school board Williams said he thinks he can influence public education.
"The mayor still, under the control act, introduces a budget for the city and the mayor can play a leadership role, inserting priorities for the city, including education," Williams said.
As for Chavous, who has headed the council's education committee for the past 18 months, Bullock said she was not impressed.
"He did not chair that committee as it should have been: in the best interest of the teachers and the children of the District of Columbia," Bullock said.
Chavous, in a statement released by his campaign, said: "I believe that the individual teachers understand that my approach to education represents real education reform."
Another Democratic mayoral candidate, Jack Evans, who represents Ward 2 on the D.C. Council, held a news conference at his Pennsylvania Avenue campaign headquarters to present his education reform plan. He said that neither Williams nor Chavous deserved the teachers union endorsement because both had failed to exercise diligent oversight of the school system, which ran a $62 million deficit this year.
The centerpiece of Evans's school reform plan is to persuade Congress to change the city's charter to give the mayor power to hire and fire the school superintendent.
"The buck must stop somewhere and that must be with the mayor," Evans said.
His plan also would require every parent, student, teacher and principal to sign a contract at the start of each school year. Such contracts, Evans argued, would restore accountability "that is completely lacking in our school system today."
In making its endorsements, the union also snubbed D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3), who is running for reelection. Patterson, a member of the education committee who had been a vocal and visible critic when schools opened late the past two years, was not interviewed by the teachers union.
Bullock said she was unhappy that Patterson supported teacher layoffs two years ago that disregarded seniority and other issues. "We lost some of our better teachers," Bullock said.
Patterson responded: "It doesn't change anything in terms of my own commitment to D.C. schools, the children and teachers, and what I hear from individual teachers is their commitment is to continue working with me and their appreciation for some of the actions I've taken."
The union also did not endorse a candidate in Ward 6, where incumbent Sharon Ambrose (D), who won the seat last year in a special election, is seeking a full term. In other council races, the union endorsed Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) for reelection, along with Council members Frank Smith, Jr. (D-Ward 1) and Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5). For an at-large seat on the council, the union backed Democrat Arrington Dixon, one of a dozen Democrats seeking the nomination.
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