Teacher upsets incumbent to win union presidency

Sharon Blake receives two more votes than Marietta A. English

May 13, 2000|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

In an election upset, a high school social studies teacher has narrowly defeated the incumbent president of the 7,000-member Baltimore Teachers Union.

Sharon Blake, a 28-year education veteran, defeated incumbent BTU President Marietta A. English by two votes out of more than 1,600 cast in an election Thursday.

"It only takes one vote to win. Every vote counts -- and that is exactly what I teach and say to young people each day," Blake said yesterday. "On election day, everyone is equal -- one man, one vote."

Blake, who teaches at Douglass High School, ran on a platform of involving parents and the community to create more support for the city's ailing school system.

She ran with a slate of candidates, "The Blake Team," which pledged to change the focus of the union. Fifteen candidates on her slate were elected to vice presidencies and other posts on the group's executive board.

Of the 1,628 votes cast, Blake received 559 and English received 557. Others in the race were Walter Marsh, a home-schooling teacher who received 221, Belinda Conaway-Washington, a Western Middle School counselor who received 39, and Joseph Gwinn, a Southern High School math teacher who received 15 votes.

English, who was seeking a second two-year term, did not return phone calls yesterday seeking comment.

"The message is teachers are ready to be strongly engaged and empowered in creating think tanks and a variety of task forces to engage the community in building support for schools in Baltimore City," Blake said.

Though Blake plans to continue to concentrate on traditional union issues -- fighting for increased salaries, better working conditions and improved health benefits -- she said she also intends to tackle the perception that city schools are in shambles.

Blake was one of two candidates who sent a letter to the union election committee last month protesting the timing of the election. She and Conaway-Washington said holding the vote during Maryland School Performance Assessment Program testing would make it difficult for teachers to vote.

The day before the election, Conaway-Washington asked a Baltimore Circuit Court judge to issue an injunction halting the election. The judge denied the request.

Blake, who will leave her teaching position to be the full-time union president, will earn about $75,000 a year and will oversee 20 staff members.

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