By Ben Velderman
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – We’ve seen surveys that suggest most educators are detached from and disinterested in the workings of their local teachers union.
Most teachers belong to their local union because they have to; it’s a condition of employment. The majority of teachers are focused entirely on helping their students and honing their classroom skills, not on their next contract or the next political campaign. They pay their dues and enjoy a free donut at the occasional union meeting before school. But that’s the limit of their involvement.
While the teachers’ lack of involvement is perfectly understandable, it has the effect of giving radicals free rein in running the union. These leaders often use the union’s coffers to push a left-wing political agenda and enrich themselves at their fellow members’ expense.
That bit of background is essential to understanding what’s currently going in Florida’s Broward County Teachers Union.
The BTU is a mess. In July, former BTU President Pat Santeramo was arrested for stealing $300,000 from the union “through a combination of vendor kickbacks and illegally inflated payments for sick and vacation time,” reports the Miami Herald.
Santeramo became the second consecutive BTU president to leave office under the cloud of criminal charges, the Herald reports.
BTU’s parent union, the American Federation of Teachers, has been running the organization since Santeramo was forced out. The AFT will turn over the reins to a new president, who will be elected later this month.
The current frontrunner is former BTU Vice President Bernie Schultz, which should cause the union more than a little embarrassment. Not only did she stick by Santeramo even while others were questioning him about a series of financial irregularities, but Schultz is also a convicted criminal herself, reports the Herald.
“In court documents, prosecutors accused Schultz of writing a $500 check in 2010 to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink – money that was later illegally reimbursed to Schultz from the union’s operating account,” the news site reports. “Schultz says she acted at Santeramo’s urging, and didn’t realize she was committing a crime.”
During an outside investigation into Santeramo’s alleged criminal behavior, it was discovered that the BTU had overpaid Schultz over seven years, to the tune of $32,000. Schultz was not charged with a crime because an outside auditor determined that the union’s record keeping was so bad that Schultz and another officer might not have realized they were being overpaid, according to the Herald.
Schultz is essentially saying that she’s not a criminal – she’s just a patsy.
While most people wouldn’t find that a reassuring argument, enough BTU members apparently do, as Schultz is the odds-on favorite to become their next leader.
(An AFT official told the Herald that Schultz’s criminal conviction doesn’t disqualify her from being considered for president.)
In the real world, most companies wouldn’t hire Schultz to clean their floors, much less to be their CEO.
But that’s not how teacher unions operate. The Herald reports that Schultz’s frontrunner status demonstrates “the power of name recognition, incumbency, and the limited knowledge voters often have when making their candidate selections.”
That’s true enough, but Schultz’s candidacy is also proof that too many teachers have sat quietly on the sidelines and watched as their unions have been overrun by the left-wing ideologues and small-time swindlers.
It’s nice when states such as Wisconsin, Idaho and Indiana make union membership optional for teachers. But teachers shouldn’t wait for their lawmakers to rescue them from compulsory unionization. Instead, they need to transform their unions from the ground up.
Teacher unions may be required by the law, but there’s nothing that says the unions have to be the sole property of the left.
Maybe it’s time for the good teachers to get involved in the nitty gritty business of running their unions, and give voice to the decent members for a change.