City teachers union vote likely to be investigated

National group set to suggest review of election complaints

July 07, 2000|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

The American Federation of Teachers governing board is expected to recommend today an investigation into the spring election of a Baltimore Teachers Union president who ousted the incumbent leader by two votes.

Jamie Horwitz, an AFT spokesman, said the national union's executive council will vote at the end of its weeklong convention in Philadelphia today on whether to investigate complaints stemming from the election of longtime teacher Sharon Blake as head of the 7,000-member Baltimore Teachers Union.

"It is believed that the council will appoint a committee to investigate that election and determine what action should be taken," Horwitz said.

Blake, who had taught social studies at Douglass High School, was one of five candidates for BTU president in May. She received 559 votes out of 1,628 votes cast in the tally. Marietta A. English, who sought a second two-year term, received 557.

Neither Blake nor English, who are at the AFT convention, could be reached yesterday for comment.

Horwitz said multiple complaints about the election were made to the AFT, of which the Baltimore union is a member. The specifics of the complaints were unclear to him yesterday, but "challenges were filed on more than one side," he said.

Peter French, a teacher at John Ruhrah Elementary School who supported neither Blake nor English during the campaign, said discussion of the election became heated at the union's last meeting last month.

French said that at the time, the union election committee chairwoman said a rematch would be held in the fall.

"I was kind of flabbergasted," he said. "No one of us really knew what the complaints were.

"There were some questions about some people who were associate members - they pay less membership than we do - trying to vote, [and] other union [members] who were stopped from voting," he said.

In her campaign for union president, Blake ran with a slate of candidates as "The Blake Team" on a platform of changing the focus of the union. She also said she hoped to increase parent and community involvement in the school system.

Fifteen of her team's candidates were elected to vice presidencies and other positions on the union's executive board.

Blake, a 28-year veteran of the school system, was one of two candidates for president who sent a letter to the union election committee during the campaign protesting the timing of the vote.

She and Belinda Conaway-Washington, a Western Middle School guidance counselor who ran for president, said holding the vote during the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program testing would make it hard for teachers to cast ballots.

Usually, election investigations conducted by the AFT are overseen by two or three AFT vice presidents who work with union staff and attorneys to determine whether a complaint has merit. The inquiries can take several weeks.

The Baltimore union president oversees a staff of 20 and is paid $75,000 a year.

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