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Baltimore Teachers Union Has New President After Being Put To The Test In Heated Election

Mary Rose Madden

  This post has been updated.

Diamonte Brown, a Booker T. Washington Middle School teacher, has narrowly defeated long-time Baltimore Teachers Union president Marietta English in one of the most contentious union elections in recent memory.

Preliminary figures released by the union last night showed Brown, who led a group calling itself The Union We Deserve, with 901 votes to English’s 839. The cursory release said English would be challenging the results.

The election was marked with charges and counter charges of foul play.

Credit Mary Rose Madden
A mocked up sample ballot the Union We Deserve created Wednesday morning. Members complained the ballot put out by union election officials made it difficult to find Union We Deserve candidates. Progressive Caucus members report they have not heard of problems at the polling stations.

English, the union president for nearly two decades, said she ran on a record of accomplishment and charged that her opponents in The Union We Deserve used unethical campaign practices.

She and others in her Progressive Caucus say her opponents violated rules by using school email addresses and home addresses to contact teachers and approached educators on school property—something that is not allowed.

English said she saved jobs two years ago when school administrators proposed budget cuts.

"When the district talked about laying off 1,000 people, not a person was fired in the teacher ranks,” she said. “The paraprofessionals who were laid off – we got them back." 

She pointed out that Baltimore City teachers have the highest starting salary in the state--$46,000 a year—and good benefits.

"We have the best health care, that people in this state would love to have,” she said. "We have the greatest health care.”

She talked about the safety task force she created that recommended teachers receive more in-depth training for discipline issues. And she said she’s tried to reach out to the teachers and paraprofessionals--therapists, secretaries and others--pushing for change under the Union We Deserve banner.

"We’ve been inclusive, we invited them to the table, we tried to hear their ideas,” she argued.

Corey Gaber, a sixth grade literacy teacher at Southwest Baltimore Charter School who is running for a seat on union’s executive board with the Union We Deserve slate, agreed they have collaborated with English on some issues. They’ve worked on creating and gathering a teacher survey to better understand teachers’ priorities and worked on developing more equitable school performance measures.

But he said they had to work hard to get the BTU to take on those issues. And in other cases, they weren't heard. 

He and others in his group charged English’s Progressive Caucus engaged in voter suppression by limiting voting hours and polling places. The polls were open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., hours that make it difficult for teachers to vote, they said. And the polling places were in locations close to English’s supporters, but far from the base of the Union We Deserve supporters.

They also complained that English nominated the election committee and that the committee decided  on election rules in her favor; issues like how the election ticket looks to voters, whether to allow absentee ballots and how to make them available.

Those sorts of rules have made it difficult for teachers to vote not only in this election, but other times when members were asked to vote on important union decisions and negotiations, he said.

Gaber said the Union We Deserve leadership will actively reach out to union members as they are building the group’s agenda. After years of pushing for the changes within the current union leadership, he said, the slate wants to see the union move forward in a way, "that is more transformative and not just incremental."

He says their leadership also will work the halls of the State House to craft policy they've worked on and bills that will affect schools and educators. And he challenges English’s claim about teacher pay and benefits.

"If the pay and benefits were sufficient,” he says, “we wouldn’t have massive droves of teachers leaving the system every year."

Mary Rose is a reporter and senior news producer for 88.1 WYPR FM, a National Public Radio member station in Baltimore. At the local news desk, she assigns stories, organizes special coverage, edits news stories, develops series and reports.
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