A middle school teacher defeated the longtime Baltimore Teachers Union president Wednesday in a surprising upheaval that signals city educators’ discontent with the status quo, the unofficial tally shows.
Diamonté Brown, who works at Booker T. Washington, defeated incumbent Marietta English, who was seeking her ninth term as leader of the city’s nearly 7,000 educators, by a 901-839 margin.
Brown, running at the top of a coalition of educators calling themselves The Union We Deserve, said teachers were tired of business as usual and wanted to forge a union that was more accountable to teachers and better promoted social justice.
She promised to be a leader for both the people who voted for her and the ones who voted against her.
“As of now, we have a clean slate and we should be able to move forward together with positivity if our real intention is to make Baltimore City Public Schools better for our kids, our families, our educators, and our PSRPs,” Brown said.
English, in a statement, pledged to challenge the preliminary results. “Throughout this campaign, there were egregious violations of the elections process,” she wrote. “I can’t in good faith concede this election.”
English had said she wanted to continue the work she started on making schools safer and contracts stronger. She was part of the past four negotiations, and after a massive budget deficit in 2016 threatened the jobs of 1,000 educators, she helped save positions. She launched a safety task force after educators were assaulted at school; the group just released its recommendations. Under her leadership, the union launched a campaign to boost the city’s plummeting enrollment by knocking on families’ doors and lobbying them to send their children to the city’s public schools.
But Brown and her supporters said her team was unresponsive to the educators in the trenches every day. They said English’s style wasn’t suited to today’s political climate, in which teachers unions across the country are rising up to demand better treatment.
Brown is promising more support for educators, a union that’s accountable to its members and a focus on racial equity.
She pledged in a news conference last week that her salary as union president would not exceed what the highest-paid teacher in the district earns.
Dozens of teachers came to the union headquarters to hear the results after a contentious election day marred by allegations of voter suppression and rule violations. After the results came out, Union We Deserve candidates hugged and wiped away tears.
The campaign season was riddled by allegations of voter suppression and campaign violations. The Union We Deserve win came after scores of educators on its side complained about the election process.
Teachers who supported Brown’s slate of candidates said the union election was not conducted fairly. They have accused the elections committee of attempting to suppress the vote by having limited voting hours and locations, and denying the majority of absentee ballot requests. They also say educators had to use a confusing ballot that favored English’s team. And at the end of the day, the election observers at Edmondson-Westside High School were kicked out by officials at Elections USA, the outside group that ran the election.
“They completely shut down the oversight process,” said Matthew Cipollone, the Union We Deserve observer.
Kelly Durkin works at Hampstead Hill Academy in Southeast Baltimore. None of the six polling places are in the southeastern part of the city, which Union We Deserve leadership says is where a large contingent of its candidates are located.
Driving to the nearest polling place, voting and getting back to Hampstead Hill took more than an hour and ate up Durkin’s entire planning period. Voting opened at 7:30 a.m. and closed at 5:30 p.m. — Hampstead Hill’s opening bell rang at 8 a.m. and Durkin had to pick up her son right after the school day ended.
“It shouldn’t be that hard for teachers to vote,” she said. Turnout is typically low in BTU elections.
Teachers encountered other problems at the ballot box.
Patrick Daniels, a longtime Baltimore City College teacher, was alarmed when he saw the screen of the electronic ballot.
On the first page, there was one box that a person could check to vote for the entire English slate. When he didn’t click that box and moved to the second screen, he got a message: “You did not select any party. Do you want to exit this screen?” with a yes or no option.
“That felt like a warning, like I was doing something wrong,” Daniels said.
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Only by the third page did he get the option to vote for people on the Union We Deserve ticket. Daniels was frustrated and upset — just imagine, he said, if the Democratic party tried to get away with that style of ballot during a citywide election.
Union We Deserve was not able to fill an entire slate, because some of its candidates for the executive board were rejected by the elections committee.
Asked Wednesday whether he believed the wording of the ballots was unfair, elections committee co-chair Thomas Frasier said, “It really is not.”
“If they would read instructions that go along with the ballot, they would not have any problems,” he said. Election committee members are chosen by current union leadership, but English says she has not spoken with him about campaign matters because she is a candidate.
Corey Debnam, chair of the Progressive Caucus, which English is a part of, also wrote a letter last week to elections committee chairs saying the caucus has learned of “numerous complaints and violations.” Teachers who support English reported getting home visits from the opposing party and receiving unsolicited emails to their district addresses.
“There have been several clear violations of the elections rules and procedures that have warranted maximum penalties for candidates involved,” he wrote. “It’s unclear whether those have been addressed.”
A spokesperson with the American Federation of Teachers said the organization received no formal complaints out of Baltimore on Wednesday.