County's teachers union makes its mark in primaries 'Pro-school' candidates helped by members' door-to-door campaigning

September 17, 1998|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

With money and hundreds of warm, angry bodies, the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County took a hand in Tuesday's primary election and got what it wanted: pro-school candidates.

The union, frustrated in the battle for county education funds, endorsed the platform of political newcomers who said they would spend more on schools. All but two won.

Owens wins

The biggest coup for the 4,000-member union was the victory of Janet Owens, who until Tuesday was a little-known former Orphans' Court judge but today is the Democratic nominee for county executive.

The teachers union played a pivotal role in winning the approval of charter government in the 1960s, so the members thought they could affect this election, said Susie C. Jablinske, the union president.

Teachers went door-to-door campaigning for Owens, and the Maryland State Teachers Association donated $2,500 to her campaign.

"We had a record number of volunteers," said John Kurpjuweit, a former union president. "We have always tried in other elections to get people moving, but this year it was different."

Teacher morale was at an all-time low, and teachers were upset with the government and the status of the school system, he said. "And they wanted to do something about it," he said.

At each door, they introduced themselves as teachers who know the problems children face in school and suggested what to do about them: vote for Owens. They handed out an estimated 60,000 pieces of campaign literature praising Owens.

Others urged their families and friends to vote for Owens. Jablinske said she figured that if each of the 4,000 members got five friends or family members to vote for Owens, that would add up to 20,000 votes.

'We really want change'

"We really want change in government, and we know we can't survive another four years of John Gary," she said.

The union has attacked Gary regularly and shunned Diane R. Evans, Owens' opponent in the Democratic primary, saying her switch from the Republican to the Democratic party was meaningless.

Evans, union officials said, voted to approve Gary's school budget, which educators say shortchanged students and did not allow the school system to provide the same services it had in the previous years.

Teachers were furious when the school board cut a popular program for gifted and talented students to make ends meet but blamed Gary, not the board.

Jablinske said union volunteers will meet with Owens next week to plan a strategy for the general election.

"It will be a very difficult battle," she said. "Gary has a big war chest, but teachers have long memories."

Jablinske said she was not impressed yesterday when Gary and Superintendent Carol S. Parham seemed to mend their differences as he announced that he would release $16 million for school construction projects and that he supports her capital budget for the next fiscal year.

"This is part of the remaking of John Gary," she said. "But the truth is that for four years, he has cut and slashed at education. We are falling behind. We will go door-to-door with more literature distribution about what really has been happening over the years and that this last minute of goodwill is not sincere."

Pub Date: 9/17/98

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