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Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Washington Times
www.washingtontimes.com
Rank-and-file teachers deny voting for Fenty takeover
By Gary EmerlingTHE WASHINGTON TIMESPublished March 2, 2007

AdvertisementMembers of the Washington Teachers Union say they never voted to support Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's school takeover plan, despite Tuesday's endorsement of the proposal made by union leaders on behalf of the group's 4,200 teachers.

"The members who heard [union President George Parker] make that announcement, many of them were shocked," said Elizabeth Davis, a teacher at Hart Middle School in Southeast. "Why is it that the union leadership take it upon themselves to take a position that its members have not taken?"

Union leaders announced the endorsement during a Tuesday press conference that preceded Mr. Fenty's final public testimony before the D.C. Council in support of a mayoral takeover of the school system. According to a press release from the mayor's office, the union "put the endorsement vote to its membership who overwhelming[ly] voted in favor of Mayor Fenty's plan." However, teachers said delegates representing union members never voted at meetings held to query Mr. Fenty and Board of Education President Robert C. Bobb about their respective school-reform proposals.

"There were a number of people that really weren't on board with [the endorsement] in terms of the fact that we didn't like Fenty's plan," said Laureen Butler, a teacher at Spingarn Center at Spingarn High School in Northeast and a union delegate. "A number of us felt this was a ploy that 'OK, the school board's [plan] was totally unacceptable so we would have to go with Fenty.'

"Union Vice President Nathan Saunders said a membership vote in advance of the endorsement was not taken or required by union regulations. Mr. Parker and Mr. Saunders said endorsement decisions are the responsibility of the union's roughly two dozen executive board members, who did vote in favor of Mr. Fenty's proposal.

"We [worked] extensively in order to make sure our teachers were included and their opinions were heard," Mr. Parker said. "We're like any organization -- we're never going to please 100 percent of the people all of the time."

Mr. Saunders said the endorsement was made after an extensive feedback process, which included phone calls to union members inviting them to attend meetings with Mr. Fenty and Mr. Bobb. Union officials conducted and distributed an analysis and rating of both proposals. Officials rated Mr. Fenty's plan much higher than Mr. Bobb's plan. Officials also said the decision to endorse Mr. Fenty's plan was based in part on a "survey of our 4,200 members." Union leaders said yesterday that between 1,100 and 1,200 union members responded to the survey, with more than 60 percent supporting Mr. Fenty's proposal, more than 30 percent undecided and only 7 percent supporting the school board's proposal.

Kerry Sylvia, a teacher at Cardozo High School in Northwest, said teachers were only given about a day to respond to the survey, which contained limited options: Support Mr. Fenty, support Mr. Bobb, or remain undecided. In addition, the survey was only sent to e-mail addresses provided to members by the union, which Ms. Sylvia said many teachers do not use regularly.

"As far as a means of getting teacher input, I don't think they did it in a way that really accurately represents the opinions of the membership," she said. Mr. Saunders defended the endorsement. "A decision was made [and] we were very deliberate about the manner in which it was made," he said. "We've got some disheartened souls here, and that's OK. This is a serious minority position."

Ms. Davis said some union members are considering filing a complaint with the Public Employee Relations Board about how the decision to endorse Mr. Fenty's plan was reached. The debate has often been heated around Mr. Fenty's proposal, which would give the mayor's office direct authority over the 55,000-student system and shift the school board into a largely policy-setting role.

Some council members, however, have suggested amendments to Mr. Fenty's plan that would grant the school board more authority. Mr. Bobb -- who previously pledged to resign if a mayoral takeover is instituted -- did not return a call for comment yesterday on what action he will take if the Fenty plan passes.

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