- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 7, 2003

Too bad American Federation of Teachers (AFT) honcho Sandra Feldman hasn’t been as concerned about the scandal-ridden financial conduct of the presidents of her affiliates as she is about the use of federal funds to finance education vouchers for D.C. students. If she were, it’s unlikely that two of the AFT’s affiliates — the Washington Teachers Union (WTU) in the nation’s capital and the United Teachers of Dade in Miami-Dade County, Fla. — would have had to have been placed in trusteeship this year. Nor is it likely that the teachers these locals purported to represent would face the financial hardships that the scandals have forced upon their local unions. Meanwhile, in what would be an equally scandalous development, if Mrs. Feldman has her way and is able to block vouchers in the District, the students who might have been fortunate enough to be granted federally funded vouchers will instead remain confined to one of the nation’s most dysfunctional public school systems. Such are the priorities of Mrs. Feldman.

In the District, the AFT had abdicated its fiduciary duties to such an extent that a D.C. teacher felt compelled to file a lawsuit seeking the imposition of a court monitor to oversee the efforts of the negligent AFT to reform its D.C. affiliate, the WTU. The monitor is desperately needed.

Even though AFT regulations required its locals to conduct audits every two years and file them with the national union, AFT attorneys have argued in the pending lawsuit that the AFT had no legal obligation to review the audits or even to verify that they were received. The WTU had not filed an audit with the AFT since 1995, after which the finances of the local were systematically looted. U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, who is hearing the case, called the AFT’s position “a sad commentary,” adding, “It seems everyone in a responsible position fell asleep at the switch. The only ones who were vigilant were the thieves, who took everything that wasn’t nailed down.”

In Miami-Dade, the FBI recently raided the new $20 million headquarters of the AFT affiliate. Pat Tornillo, the local’s $243,000-per-year president for more than two decades who doubles as a kingmaker in Florida Democratic politics, has taken a leave of absence. The Miami Herald has reported that Mr. Tornillo used union money, including credit cards, to finance $350,000 in purchases unrelated to union business. Among other things, Mr. Tornillo spent $50,000 on a three-week vacation to Australia and New Zealand and $27,000 on a two-week jaunt to Cambodia, Thailand, India and Switzerland. Meanwhile, according to the Miami trustee appointed by the AFT, the local’s financial records are in complete disarray, and its financial crisis is so serious that the local had trouble paying a $300,000 insurance premium for the health benefits of its members.

Despite rumors of corruption surrounding the Miami local for years and the abject refusal of the WTU for years to file audits with the parent union, Mrs. Feldman claims to have completed blindsided by events. “We never had anything like this before,” she told the New York Times recently. “We have been all these years a totally clean union” — except, apparently, for at least the past seven years when the WTU’s coffers were being looted.

Amazingly, even after the AFT belatedly learned in the summer of 2002 of the extent of the multimillion-dollar fraud being perpetrated on the WTU, the parent company apparently felt no compulsion to increase accountability standards for its locals. Not until after the Miami scandal imploded in April did the AFT get around to doing this.

While the AFT was turning what amounted to a blind eye on the financial scandals of its locals, one can’t help but wonder how closely Mrs. Feldman kept tabs on the millions and millions of dollars in the AFT’s political action committee (PAC), which the AFT has methodically funneled to the Democratic Party and its candidates over the same years. It’s possible but not likely that those PAC records are in the same disgraceful shape that characterizes the condition of Miami and D.C. financial files. Such are the priorities of Mrs. Feldman.

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