The Broward Teachers Union’s Executive Board members are working hard to represent the best interests of the BTU’s membership. The following is the first of several updates as to how the BTU is taking action to move the union forward in a positive direction for all members.
The BTU’s Executive Board recently learned that a review of the union’s finances by accountants with the American Federation of Teachers, which is the organization’s national affiliate, discovered that apparent campaign violations in the form of improper candidate contributions may have taken place.
The BTU’s Executive Board members take their legal fiduciary responsibility very seriously. It is important to your union’s Executive Board members that your dues money is protected as well as used wisely and as intended – to organize and represent the membership concerning public education issues.
In regard to the allegedly improper candidate contributions, the union has received notice that a formal complaint has been filed with the Florida Elections Commission against the BTU and President Pat Santeramo. The BTU has also been notified by the Broward State Attorney’s Office that an investigation is taking place.
Steps have already been taken to recover the funds in question. Those efforts have been successful, and almost all of the $19,500 disbursed has been returned.
While these inquiries are taking place, the union’s Executive Board members voted on Tuesday, November 15 to take action by placing the BTU into voluntary AFT administratorship. This means by this Friday, November 18, AFT President Randi Weingarten and the AFT Executive Council will appoint an administrator who will take over management of BTU’s day-to-day operations. The union’s national affiliate will pay for the cost of the new, yet to be named, administrator who will serve temporarily for a six month period with the option of continuing beyond that time.
The Executive Board took this unprecedented action to assure the union’s stability during these challenging times. The BTU’s membership must know that the union’s number one priority is and always will be the members’ best interests.
The membership’s elected representatives who serve on the Executive Board will work in an advisory capacity with the BTU’s new administrator in a renewed and increased effort to listen to the membership’s concerns and respond to them. The Executive Board members want to make certain that the organization remains completely focused on engaging and empowering members to improve their professional and personal lives through the membership’s collective voice.
Moreover in order to protect the interests of the union’s members, the Executive Board also took action to retain outside counsel, Kendall Coffey, who specializes in election law to look into the allegations of improper candidate contributions and to help develop training materials and procedures to ensure BTU is in compliance going forward with all state and federal campaign finance laws and regulations. The Executive Board is committed to making sure what has allegedly occurred and is being investigated never happens again.
On Wednesday, December 7, the Executive Board will meet in executive session to conduct an Expulsion Hearing concerning several related charges, which have been widely reported, and were lodged against President Santeramo by several Executive Board members. Due to the serious nature of the allegations and in the spirit of due process that would be afforded any other BTU member, President Santeramo will have the opportunity to present testimony and evidence in his defense against the charges. The respective Executive Board members will also present testimony and evidence in support of the charges.
Following the presentations, the Executive Board will vote whether to expel President Santeramo from the union. Just as in all similar human resources and personnel matters, the expulsion hearing and vote will take place in executive session and will not be open to the public.
Another major factor identified in the AFT financial appraisal is that BTU has not raised its dues since the 2004-2005 fiscal year. The BTU’s dues are currently $50 per full dues equivalent (FDE) per month or $600 per year, which is amongst the lowest in the nation.
The result of not raising the BTU’s dues over this period is that increases in the dues of the union’s state affiliate, the Florida Education Association, and the AFT at the national level were not passed along to members. Affiliate per capita increases totaled approximately $2 million in increased expenses for the six year period.
Fortunately, the BTU had reserves to cover all costs for the referenced fiscal years and no funds had to be borrowed. BTU currently has cash-on-hand of approximately $700,000; a building fund reserve of $728,000 and assets totaling $1.6 million (the BTU building and adjoining parcel of land).
To cover the expenses, funds were transferred from BTU’s savings. This action has depleted the reserve. As a result, like so many other organizations, the union had to make the incredibly difficult and painful decision to lay off staff, eliminate positions through attrition, return one officer to the classroom, cut salaries by 2 to 22 percent, temporarily suspend the union staff’s retirement contribution and make additional cuts to virtually every budget line item.
AFT’s Constitution requires affiliates to pass through state and national dues increases to the local membership, but these costs were absorbed by the BTU during the last six years. This happened because the BTU’s leadership recognized the current challenging economy has had a devastating impact on the union’s members.
Over the past several years, the BTU also experienced growth despite a decline in the bargaining-units’ members; the BTU and its members engaged in a four year battle with an anti-union superintendent and school district trying to destroy the union; the BTU reorganized the retiree chapter; and had internal and external financial personnel issues. This year, Broward schools released all AC 1 and 2 teachers in addition to other personnel diminishing the union’s bargaining units by 1,526 positions.
The BTU’s expenses exceeded revenues.
The BTU’s Executive Board is committed to ensuring fiduciary responsibility to all of BTU’s members. The members of the Executive Board are disappointed that this situation occurred, but from the very beginning, the BTU as well as our national affiliate, the AFT, has placed full disclosure to the membership and the public as well as taking corrective action as top priorities.
To assist the BTU in this process, the Executive Board has taken the added action step based on the recommendation of the AFT to hire professional financial manager Mike Benner. Mr. Benner brings to the BTU years of union financial management expertise. The AFT has also offered to help fund this important temporary position, which will likely remain in place up to two years.
With the guidance and assistance of Mr. Benner, the BTU’s Executive Board is working to put the union’s finances on solid footing and to ensure it remains that way. However, the BTU needs the help of all members.
BTU’s new administrator, along with Financial Manager Mike Benner and the Executive Board will be establishing new union budget, audit, and Constitution & By-Laws committees whose members will work with and report the results to the Executive Board, Steward Council and membership. Any members with management, financial, or accounting experience who would like to be considered for one of the new committees by the union’s new administrator with the assistance of the union’s new financial manager are encouraged to submit their names in reply to this email or to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Again, this is the first of several union membership messages intended to update all members. In the near future, additional information will be shared with members. Equally important, the BTU wants to hear from members too. Any members with questions, concerns or comments are urged to send an email to email@example.com.
The BTU’s Executive Board stands ready to take whatever additional steps are necessary to assure the stability of the union and its focus remains steadfast on organizing and representing all members.