Battling for the Top Spot at the Washington Teachers' Union Rancor in the WTU ranks threatens to explode in upcoming election.

Dues and Don’ts: Parker says Saunders is more interested in running for office than serving the union.
Darrow Montgomery

News flash: It’s campaign season, and there’s a big-time election coming. The fate of our city is at stake—it’s a race that stands to impact big-time issues: education reform, relations with the city workforce, ongoing financial pressures.

No, LL does not speak of the mayoral race. What’s he’s talking about here is the presidency of the Washington Teachers’ Union.

An internecine battle that’s been brewing for the better part of three years is threatening to explode this spring, as WTU President George Parker runs for a third term as chief of the high-profile union. His only declared opposition thus far is Nathan Saunders, who has spent both of Parker’s terms as general vice president, a post that, in recent years, Saunders has used to assail Parkers’ leadership at near every turn.

If you thought relations between the mayor and D.C. Council are bad, they’ve got nothing on the rancor within the WTU executive ranks. As Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has embarked on her mission to overhaul the D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) in no small part by improving the quality of teaching, Saunders has repeatedly sought to undercut Parker. At one point, Saunders filed a federal lawsuit against Parker, accusing him of conspiring to oust Saunders from union affairs and covering up financial mismanagement to boot. A judge tossed Saunders’ lawsuit out of court, but that has hardly put a muzzle on the man.

“I’m of the ilk that a union represents its members’ interest, not as a communications funnel for management’s interest,” he says by way of slamming Parker.

“Nathan’s pretty much been running for office for the last three years,” Parker retorts, with good reason. While Saunders has been tossing verbal bombs in Parker’s direction since 2007, he’s been engaged in the tough slog of negotiating a teacher contract with DCPS—a process deeply intertwined with the union campaigns.

Teachers have been working without a contract since October 2007, and since Rhee made it plain early on that she planned to make big-time changes in contractual terms a cornerstone of her tenure, negotiations repeatedly broke down to the point that a third-party mediator—former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke—was brought in last year to seal a deal. In recent weeks, both Parker and Rhee have said that they are very close to reaching an agreement—statements that have Saunders and others wondering: What are they waiting for?

That might well be the union election. For one thing, Rhee is certainly feeling pressure to get a deal done ahead of the union election. With Saunders, well known as an anti-Rhee partisan, waiting in the wings, DCPS gains little by having him replace Parker. And without a doubt, a negotiated contract presented to teachers for ratification would be Parker’s best campaign tool.

Elizabeth Davis, a longtime WTU activist who ran unsuccessfully against Parker and Saunders back in 2004, says that without a contract in place, “It gives the impression to members that you have a chief negotiator who can’t negotiate a good deal for teachers.”

In 2008, Parker badly misread his constituency when word of a two-tier “red and green” teacher-compensation system leaked. Teachers who were willing to give up their job security—the work rules typically referred to as “tenure”—could see their pay rise by 50 percent or more, an amount unheard of in the teaching realm. But if Parker thought that teachers would jump at the chance for a massive raise, he was wrong.

In an unforgettable moment, Parker polled thousands of teachers assembled at the Washington Convention Center for an August 2008 “Welcome Back” event. With Rhee behind him on the dais, he asked teachers to raise their hands if they liked the red-and-green proposal; the teachers, with boos and hisses, made it clear that they weren’t down with the tiers, all but killing the proposal.

But if Parker can now deliver a contract that delivers a decent pay increase while preserving the tenets of the tenure system, that would be a record to run on.

Aside from a potential contract, Parker’s got some other accomplishments he’s happy to rattle off—things like tuition reimbursements for teachers, guaranteed planning periods, clean union books. But Saunders has one big advantage: He’s got all the time in the world to campaign; his rift with Parker has meant he’s essentially a freelancer within the union leadership.

But question is, will the race be a clear-cut choice between Parker and Saunders? Davis, for one, hopes not. She’s looking for someone along the lines of Randi Weingarten, the former head of the New York City teachers union, who last year took the reins of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), parent of both the New York and D.C. unions. Faced with a national political climate hostile to teachers unions, she’s since set about reforming the AFT’s image, opening up to certain proposals—merit pay among them—that were once anathema to union leaders.

Rather than engage in the old-line labor-management debates, Davis says, local union leaders need “to frame issues around children.” “Randi has somehow managed to pull it off with the AFT,” Davis says. “I don’t understand why that can’t happen locally.”

Perhaps it can. Parker eagerly takes up the Weingarten mantle, impressing upon LL the need for the WTU to “get in front of” reform efforts. And he isn’t shy about drawing lines in the sand: “This is about change in unionism versus old-school unionism,” Parker says. “We’ve got to convince parents and everyone else that we care about the children, we don’t just care about salaries and benefits....We haven’t gotten that credibility yet.”

That process might be eased by the WTU’s changing makeup. “George has a different group of teachers voting—new in the city, new in the system. They’re not people who attend the union meetings,” Davis says.

Saunders says he’s in the process of putting together a slate. He says he’s looking for “teachers that embody a certain amount of values…equality, freedom, fairness, integrity, responsibility, and security.” Rumors have it that Saunders has tapped Candi Peterson, a firebrand social worker who runs a blog, the Washington Teacher, that is a reliable source of anti-Rhee invective and rabble-rousing. Saunders declines to knock down the rumors: “I want Candi Peterson in a significant role. We haven’t come to terms on that.” Parker, for his part, looks forward to having a VP he can actually work with.

The mechanics of a union election don’t much resemble those of a council or mayoral race. The politicking is done mostly via mailers and signs posted in teacher lounges. Candidates can make the rounds to the 140-plus DCPS facilities, but pressing flesh with time-strapped teachers can be a tall order. Come election time, ballots are mailed to WTU members, who cast their votes and mail them back to an independent auditor that tallies the votes. The winner needs to collect more than 50 percent of the vote to win; additional candidates raise the prospect that the process could drag into summer and beyond.

Saunders says he hopes to have a victory wrapped up as early as possible—hopefully before too late in the summer, because he has other ambitions.

“I want the WTU to play a significant role in the mayoral election,” he says. “By prolonging this into September, we aren’t a factor in the Fenty election, and if we aren’t a factor, then we’re guaranteed Rhee again.”

On this, Parker actually agrees: “I think we have to be involved. Having a mayor that’s supportive of education and supportive of teachers is important.”

Vince and Marion

In early December, LL penned a column about D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray’s political standing, shortly after accusations of financial misdealings hit the papers.

Therein, LL pointed to the then-ongoing probe into council contracting and earmarking practices being conducted by superlawyer Robert S. Bennett as “another looming matter that could shake the chairman’s standing in the public eye.”

Well, the Bennett report is out, and thus far, the chairman’s standing is solid. The investigation conducted by Bennett and his Big Law colleagues proved to be thoroughgoing, its conclusions incisive and its recommendations well-reasoned.

And Gray deserves kudos for how the release of the report was handled. Neither the chairman nor any of his 12 colleagues were privy to Bennett’s findings prior to Tuesday morning, when Bennett sat before the council dais with co-investigator Amy Sabrin and proceeded to publicly detail Marion Barry’s multitude of misdoings. In the process, Bennett did nothing to soft-pedal his most damning finding: that Barry had handed a contract to girlfriend Donna Watts-Brighthaupt, then demanded part of the proceeds in return—what amounts to a kickbank. Bennett’s report was also forthright about Barry’s attempts to derail the investigation—by refusing to answer key questions and attempting to keep Watts-Brighthaupt from handing over critical evidence.

The whole thing made for great theater, with Bennett detailing his findings as Barry sat before him on the dais, leaning back in his chair. Afterward, Barry flailed in protest, lashing out at whistleblower Sharon Wise and asking Bennett how he could be faulted on handing a contract to Watts-Brighthaupt when no “written procedures” had been in place governing such behavior. Quite simple, Bennett replied: “I wouldn’t expect the city council to have written rules—with all due respect, sir—that you should not give [contracts] to people you have a relationship with.”

“We couldn’t have been more fair to Mr. Barry,” Bennett added. “We plain and simple found that he did some things wrong.”

Gray hasn’t proven his stewardship of the city legislature just yet. That’s going to depend on how he leads his institution’s response to Barry. For one thing, the council will vote in the coming weeks to refer the Bennett findings to the new U.S. attorney, Ron Machen. And there will almost certainly be an attempt to censure Barry—an unprecendented council maneuver. Gray needs to make sure there are 12 votes for both those measures.

Beyond that, there is nothing in the council rules to allow the body to eject one of its members; the only way to oust Barry would be through an unlikely recall from the voters of Ward 8. (No public official here has even been recalled.) But Gray has other tools at his disposal. He could strip Barry of his committee chairmanship, for one. And he could call on Barry to resign for the good of the council.

If Gray follows through, his mayoral hopes might still twinkle.

Get Loose Lips Daily every weekday morning in your inbox—sign up at washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/citydesk. Got a tip for LL? Send suggestions to lips@washingtoncitypaper.com. Or call (202) 332-2100, x 244, 24 hours a day.

Correction: Due to an error by columnist Mike DeBonis, this column originally referred to Candi Peterson as a "special-ed aide." Peterson is a social worker, not an aide.

The Education Issue

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Our Readers Say

As a point of correction, and I'm sure she'll also post, Candi Peterson of www.thewashingtonteacher.blogspot.com is a school social worker for special education students, one of the types of related service providers (along with school psychologists) covered under the WTU along with regular teachers. She would be a welcome addition to a Nate Saunders ticket and hope she comes on board.
Do the head honchos of the teachers union actually do any teaching? How does either Saunders or Parker have all this time for campaigning and schmoozing, unless they don't have an actual day job? And how can I get a job like that?

As for Gray, the Council's earmarks shenanigans happened under his watch. He let it happen. For him to be complaining about the mayor's shady deals with buddy developers is rich indeed.

Speaking of which, has Gray gotten around to getting the building permits for the fence and other construction work done by his own buddy developers?
Sally, since you are asking these things of Gray , why aren't you asking the same about Fenty and the 85 mil. that has gone to his frat buddies to me that trumps a damn fence any day of the week.
Sally's right about Gray. Why hasn't anyone followed up on him?
Sally, clearly you are out of touch with the first level of Bloom's Taxonomy-KNOWLEDGE! Check out the WTU Constitution and you will get all the answers you need to your questions, even though they are irrelevant. As we teach our students to do, before you ask a question try to seek the answer on your own. Usually, the answer is right in front of your face, just open the book. In this case, the book is the WTU Constitution. Read it, if answers are what you are looking for and not just blowing hot air!
How stupid....an aide, really??!!??
Maybe before the media goes around crucifying teachers and the union, they might wanna do a little research to see what it's all about.

Debonis: Open mouth, insert foot!

On another note, if Saunders getting in the race makes Parker nervous enough to finally produce a contract...I'd say that Saunders is a pretty smart fellow. Nothing else has worked in the last three years!!!!!!
Elizabeth Davis......what hole did Debonis dig her up from??? And tell me exactly what the AFT has done for you lately????

Thought about loose lips???? NOT!

We haven't seen or heard from Davis in years???? Guy Branderburg (famous blogger) actually thought she had died. Thankfully, he reported that he had the wrong Elizabeth Davis. But that oughta tell you something!!

Word to Elizabeth Davis: Don't wait for the great
_ _ _ _ _ savior. Try saving yourself!
Ms. Peterson is an accomplished social worker with a Master's + 60. An aide is totally different. A retraction is in order.
Sally,
The WTU contract is here:
http://www.wtulocal6.org/pdf/contract.pdf
The article has been corrected regarding Ms. Peterson. LL sincerely regrets the error.
Ah, the WTU is at it again. Why would either Fenty or Rhee care to settle this contract before the mayoral election? Certainly not to preclude Saunders or to "help" the incumbent leader. The max point of leverage for this adminstration on the contract will be right after the election for mayor. H_ _ _ _, the WTU election threshold of 50% probaby won't be reached even by then. Note that parents and taxpayers know about the corrupt history and dysfunction of the WTU. Is WTU credible to many even in its own membership? Also Randi W would rather make speechs about the teachers' unions commitment to education improvement and reform. But settling the contact will entail giving up and making a few people mad. So, she'll talk and speechify and not settle until she absolutely has to.
Well Nathan S. is the most likely candidate to beat the odds against Parker. A contract will not matter on this upcoming election. CHANGE is what we need and Nathan S. and Candi P. can bring about that change. I believe in there commitment to EXCELLENCE. A new contract will be a toss between job stability or more money... let's wait and see. Candi Perterson has not mislead us thus far.
The City Paper is so racist. What about Ward 1 Councilman Jim Grahams alleged sexual favors with his former chief of staff who is under fire from the US Attorney's Office for taking bribes. Why let Councilman Graham off at the hook at the expense of another minority as if White politicians and activists are so clean and law abiding. Hey Mike, when are you going to report on White city ploiticians and white supremists activists in a negative perspective? If Blacks where not in government roles the City Paper would be broke.
I.J your 100% Correct...

As "Lindsey" pointed out, Davis hasn't been around in years but LL uses her in the article to interject Randi Weingarten into the discussion because she is a white woman from NY who has bent over backwards to sell out the teachers in the AFT. If she heads the WTU she can bring some sense to the "Negro" teachers in the WTU.

As to Barry, first, lets be clear Bennett and Saprin are gangster lawyers who represent white collar criminals and other white elite (Clinton, McCain) when they get in trouble, they are by no means unbiased and have a class interest in seeing Barry reprimanded.

Also, despite LL's assertion, for Gray to go after Barry harshly would be political suicide. When Gray is under investigation for shady dealings with his developer friends, when Jim Graham is under investigation for his involvement in the taxi scandal, and Fenty awarding milions to his frat buddies, and Rhee admitting that she fired teachers b/c they had sex with students, it would be clear that the attack is not on Barry but what he represents.

Although people East of the River know Barry is a typical politician, we also understand that whites attack Barry because he represents a time when Black people's interest were actually considered in city affairs and whites resent it.
I am soooo sick and tired of black folks (esp. in Ward 8) using "white racism" to justify the misdeeds of Marion "Mayor for Life" Barry. I have been a Ward 8 resident for over 10 years and have watched this manand his actions denigrate the hard work and reputation of honest black folks in the River East. His behavior is more shameful than ALL of the negative crime statistics pulled together. Let's vote this loser out once and for all Ward 8!!!
Ward 8 Rez ........ wake up and recognize that everything Barry has done POSITIVE is for the people. He put Ward 8 on the map with improved city services over the years. He took pride in Ward 8 and has had a least three different residences there ........ where all the other Mayors seldom visited Ward 8.
EVERYTHING MARION BARRY DOES THAT IS NEGATiVE....THE GUY DOES TO HIMSELF. Get real and get out of Barry's business!
Ward 8 is indeed on the map. For all the wrong reasons.
Now that Marion Barry has been outed by Mr. Bennet, the mayor, and the rest of the city council should be investigated.
Social Worker, are you for real? Fenty "seldom" visits Ward 8? What planet do you live on? Ward 8 gets more services than any other ward due to the high poverty rate. It may well be a shame that it's "used up" in public housing and career counseling, but Ward 8 is far and above the budget hog of the city, demanding everything and giving almost nothing back but crime. You are a parody of the Ward 8 resident, blind to their place in society and crying "Me Me Me, Gimme Gimme Gimme." If a vote was held to kick Ward 8 out of the city how do you think the other 7 wards would vote? Compare that, let's say, to Wards 4, 5 or 6? would the other wards vote out Ward 5? Definitely not.

Get out of Barry's business, hell, Barry needs to get out of MY BUSINESS, but he keeps spending my money like it's his own.
Now you know if Barbara was in charge...this contract would have been ratified and signed by now. Parker and Saunders...are a comical team. All that is needed for them is to find a playground and let'em fight it out. When Saunders presented the lawsuit...against Parker on who's dime did the attorney fees come from...was it the WTU-due paying members. Now that is what I call robbing Peter to pay Paul?
Washington Teachers Union, another group of crooks, right up there with Metro's Transit Union.

Both reward and defend the incompetent and criminals.
Listen ddb+t you have lost your sense of self in your last email indicating that I am "parody" when it comes to Ward 8. I Never lived in Ward 8 but your comments sounds as though you are a product of the underground. YOU hate Barry because he is living your dream!
BBB, I love it! Yes, Babs stole from us, hard-working dues-paying DC teachers to buy ridiculous luxury items to make her feel better about herself. Millions, if I remember correctly and served time for it. But she would have gotten us a contract, that's for sure. We are so horribly ill-represented that we're pining for a convicted felon over the leadership we've got now. I'm voting for Nathan over GP any day of the week, but will Nathan even be able to sit in the same room and speak to Rhee, let alone negotiate? just a thought.
Toby......the one thing I do believe is that we won't be jerked around for three years waiting for the other shoe to fall; being told that we are close to a contract--what is close? Remember, people sitting across the table from one another requires respect. Remember when GP tried to throw Nathan back in the classroom??......it was Michelle Rhee who quickly solved the problem...not GP. Rhee respects intelligence and principaled leadership. She may not like it but she does respect it. I bet she wouldn't feel comfortable just spouting off her mouth like she does now, if she knew she would be taken to task everytime she inserted her foot in her mouth.
BBB....this is the problem. Teachers are criticized today, because of the Bullock mess. And you want to bring her back because of what she can do for you? If you kept up with your reading, you would know that BB's conviction makes her legally ineligible to come back in any capacity. So why would you profer something that is impossible!

And, since you think this is a playground matter, the only reason teachers got their dues money back in 2004 was because of the Saunders lawsuit filed. AFT fought this because they said that WTU members should have known that their dues money was being used to buy furts, wigs, etc.
And, if you check thoroughly enough, you will also note that all money awarded from the lawsuit went directly back to the member and then directly to the Union. This is much more than anyone else has done.

BTW No attorney fees for Saunders' lawsuit. he writes his own. I know this because I look up the cases on the court website (that's what pro se means) and only Parker can use union funds to file lawsuits.....no one else....any other lawsuit filed is at cost to the individual. Their Personal Cost. Would you spend your personal money to right a wrong without monetary gain????????
If you would, why didn't you?
WTC should be known as W= WE, T= TAKE, C = CASH!
If Saunders was the Vice President WITH Parker, the entire time Parker has served as President why do these poor misguided teachers think that anything will be different with Saunders in charge? I don't think that the lesser of two evils addage applies here.
Rick,

DO YOUR HOMEWORK........What is WTC???????

If you are going to be a smart A_ _, at least get it right the first time!

Whitney,
Did you just wake up this morning and decide to, all of a sudden, have a comment on this issue??? For three years, as Parker himself says in this article, Saunders has been battling him on issues currently impacting (no pun intended) teachers and students in DCPS. A simple search on news articles of any local paper can attest to the fact that Parker has been running this Union like his own corner store----without the input of the executive board, building reps, or the membership. Haven't had a meeting in almost three months (they are supposed to happen monthly). So....."the lesser of two evils", you say.....I don't think so!
Hey Lindsey! It is very obvious that you don't know anything about the WTU constitution. Sallie's questions are not answered there. I hope you are not this way with the students you teach; Telling them in a very impatient way: "Look, the answer is right in front of you," ( which it isn't). "Just open the the book, (the constitution). You would have been an execellent educator if you could have pointed out the places for her, but you can't find them yourself. Sad.

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