The latest Washington Teachers’ Union election is reviving a bitter rivalry as president Elizabeth Davis faces a challenge from Nathan Saunders — the man she ousted from the role in 2013 to win one of the District’s most powerful labor positions.
And the campaigns have intensified in the final weeks before the June election after Saunders, a teacher at Eastern Senior High, posted on his campaign website previously unreported details about a drunken-driving charge filed in January against Davis.
Teachers must send in their ballots by mail, and votes will be tallied June 17.
In an interview Wednesday, Davis confirmed that she is facing DUI charges and said she plans to plead guilty in Prince George’s County Circuit Court on Thursday.
She said she expects the penalties to include traffic school. According to court records, Davis — who was charged with reckless and negligent driving, driving while under the influence of alcohol and failure to control speed to avoid a collision — also faces up to $800 in fines.
Davis was driving on a highway in Prince George’s County about 2 a.m. Jan. 5, she said, when a speeding car approached. She said she thought the car was barreling toward her and her vehicle crashed into the guardrail on the shoulder of the highway.
Davis said this was her first DUI.
“I thought I was okay to drive,” she said in the interview. “I made a bad decision to drive after having one too many drinks. It was bad judgment. It was a mistake I made.”
Davis has vowed to continue her quest to win her third straight Washington Teachers’ Union election, even as Saunders has questioned her fitness to lead the 4,200-member organization. Leaders of the teachers union serve three-year terms.
The election comes as the union is beginning to negotiate its next contract with the city. Its current pact, reached in 2017 after a five-year impasse, is set to expire in September.
The union race has drawn a crowded field as the school system is still recovering from a tumultuous few years, including a controversy in 2018 that cost the chancellor his job after just a year in the role.
Six candidates have declared their candidacy for union president, and some are running alongside large slates of teachers vying to fill more than three dozen lower positions.
Chief among their concerns is the school system’s use of a controversial evaluation system known as IMPACT that ties test scores and other student achievement metrics to teachers’ pay and job security.
Candidates interviewed by The Washington Post, including Davis, said the evaluation system should be dismantled. They said that the system has weakened teachers’ voices and that they want to strengthen the union to protect those voices.
“We need to get rid of IMPACT altogether, and we need to build relationships with the D.C. Council and [school system] so we can find a replacement,” said Joseph Martin, a third-grade teacher at Miner Elementary School running for union president. “We need a change. Liz Davis has had six years to establish those relationships.”
Saunders was fired from his job as a teacher at Anacostia High in 2018 after he claims he unfairly received a low IMPACT score — retribution, he said, for speaking out against school practices. He sued D.C. Public Schools, and the school system confirmed Wednesday it had reached a settlement with Saunders and reinstated him as a teacher in February.
“I understand what teachers are going through, because it happened to me,” he said. “I chose to run because the union is absolutely inept right now under Liz Davis in protecting and supporting the rights of teachers, despite all the spin that goes on.”
When D.C. Schools Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee took office this year, he said he recognized a culture of fear existed among teachers and said he wanted to examine the IMPACT system, although he made no commitments.
The IMPACT system has received increased scrutiny since a citywide investigation showed that the school system handed out high school diplomas to students who were absent for large portions of the academic year.
A citywide investigation found that teachers felt pressure to pass students, fearing that if they did not, they could receive a lackluster evaluation.
Monica Brokenborough — a former teacher at Ballou Senior High who raised the alarm on students receiving passing grades despite dismal attendance records — said she is running for union president to try to fix the culture of fear among teachers.
She left the D.C. system in 2017 but returned in April as a part-time music teacher at Hyde-Addison Elementary.
“The union is not nearly as strong as it should be in doing what is supposed to be — which is advocating and being the front line of defense for our teachers,” Brokenborough said. “I am very knowledgeable about how the whole system works.”
Teachers Edward Sauls and Jonte Lee are also running for union president.
Davis said that when she took the helm of the union in 2013, it was in financial trouble. She said she beefed up membership numbers and improved finances.
Davis said she is working with teachers to draft a proposal the D.C. Council could use to replace IMPACT. She said fixing the teacher evaluation system could improve teacher retention rates.
And, Davis said, she has improved relationships with city leaders, which could pave the way for a strong teachers contract.
“The teacher evaluation system we have is highly weaponized, and I believe it is driving the teacher turnover rate,” Davis said. “I have drawn more attention to the need to replace IMPACT than any other union leader.”
Concha Johnson, chair of the union’s election committee, said she hopes the heated election draws at least a 50 percent voter turnout.
Lynh Bui contributed to this report.