- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2006

The Washington Teachers Union spent tens of thousands of dollars for a river cruise, an annual conference and public relations consulting in fiscal 2005 despite posting more than $600,000 in debt for the second consecutive year.

The teachers union, which is recovering from a multimillion-dollar embezzlement scandal, has filed its 2005 financial disclosure report after months of scrutiny by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The department’s Washington field office rejected an earlier report from the union, citing undisclosed shortcomings.

The new report notes that the union’s membership has fallen from 4,500 teachers to 4,128 and that total debt at the end of fiscal 2005 was $609,910, compared with $682,913 a year earlier.

Nonetheless, the union paid $8,960 to District-based Odyssey Cruises, whose Potomac River yacht packages feature dinner and dancing.

The union paid $37,227 to the Walker Marchant Group, a local public relations firm, and $20,336 to the Maritime Institute for an annual conference for union-building representatives in July 2004.

The riverboat cruise on Sept. 8, 2004, also was for a building representative conference, the report said.

Alex Wohl, a spokesman for the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the local union’s parent organization, said the conference and riverboat expenses “were not extraordinary costs.”

Representatives took the riverboat cruise as the beleaguered union was returning to local control after the embezzlement scandal. They received training and briefings during the conference and boat ride, Mr. Wohl said.

He said George Springer, the AFT official appointed to lead the teachers union during receivership, authorized a lunchtime riverboat cruise as a reward for union members who had worked hard during a difficult period.

“These folks were working their hearts out,” Mr. Wohl said. “They were besieged by bad news and bad feelings, and you want to thank them.”

Union President George Parker said he has eliminated future riverboat cruises and overnight conferences “because we just don’t have the money.”

He said he has “taken flak” for the decision from some union members.

“Everything is clean and clear,” he said of the union’s finances.

“They’ve got their finances under control,” Mr. Wohl said of the local union.

Mr. Parker said his union’s debt stands at about $400,000, which stems from the embezzlement scandal that landed former President Barbara A. Bullock in federal prison.

Bullock and other former officials misspent as much as $5 million of union dues on personal items such as tickets to basketball games, artwork, furs and plasma televisions.

“We’ve made some pretty good dents in [reducing debt],” he said.

The union returned to local control in January, after it fell into receivership amid the embezzlement scandal, which involved several top former officials.

During fiscal 2005, the union was split between local control and the AFT.

One section of the final report, received May 12, shows union field representative Maryanne Collins earning total compensation of $159,461, far more than any other union employee, including Mr. Parker.

Mr. Wohl said the figure reflects two years of pay for Miss Collins.

Mr. Parker’s salary is listed at $44,193, but that figure reflects only a portion of 2005. He did not take office until past the halfway point of the year, officials said.

The Labor Department filed a lawsuit in February seeking to void the results of the union’s 2004 and 2005 elections.

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