Former union chief's new bid She seeks to return to lead city teachers; Election is Tuesday; Dandridge appealing exclusion from ballot


Two years after her ouster as the longtime president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, Irene B. Dandridge is attempting to make a comeback. She's trying to get on the ballot for Tuesday's union election.

Dandridge, who has filed suit to block the election and is in the midst of a petition drive to sanction her candidacy, is hoping to regain a post she held for 17 years. She lost it in 1996 after accusations that she mismanaged the finances of the city's largest municipal union.

Next week's election is a crowded contest, with five candidates on the ballot for the job of representing the city's 7,200 teachers. The election comes at a crucial time for Baltimore schools as a reform-minded board attempts to bring accountability to an underperforming system.

The presidency of the union changed in January when Marcia P. Brown, who upset Dandridge two years ago, resigned to take another job. Her replacement, Marietta English, is running for the union presidency.

On April 30, Dandridge filed suit to overturn the BTU leaders, who ruled she was not a qualified candidate. The lower court has rejected her plea for an injunction, and Dandridge's lawyers this week appealed to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

Jeffrey N. Pritzker, Dandridge's attorney, said he doesn't expect the appellate court to rule before Monday on the motion to delay the election.

Pritzker said the union's executive board wrongly concluded that Dandridge was ineligible to run because she had not taught in the Baltimore schools for the past year.

"Their own constitution doesn't require what they say it requires," Pritzker said. "She's a dues-paying member in good standing. She was not teaching for the Baltimore city schools for the past year, but that is not what is required."

Pritzker said that anyone who "engages in teaching or performs educational duties in Baltimore City" qualifies to run for union office and that Dandridge meets those criteria. He said she gathered 400 signatures on a petition supporting her candidacy when only 50 were required.

"There's widespread support for her," Pritzker said.

Candidates on the ballot in addition to English are Peggy J. Waller, a 30-year teacher in city schools; Charles A. Dugger, who has taught at a number of city schools; Adolph McDonald, a 15-year teacher; and Margo Young, who has taught for 22 years.

Peter French, a teacher who is active in a union reform movement called Teachers for a New Direction, said the election is important because of the school board's new policies on length of the school day as well as performance evaluations for teachers.

"We have had a legacy of leaders who believe they are the union, and that is just an enormous fallacy," he said. "The strength of any union comes from its membership."

Despite the interest of candidates, three forums over the past week have been sparsely attended. Last night, only one teacher attended.

Dandridge's bid to again head the Baltimore Teachers Union comes without the key backing of Lorretta Johnson, the head of the BTU chapter representing teachers aides. Johnson and Dandridge were partners during the 17 years Dandridge headed the BTU.

Dandridge declined to discuss why she is attempting to reclaim the union's presidency. As for Johnson's lack of support, she said: "I haven't the slightest idea of what happened. She's the one who decided not to support me. You'll have to ask her about it."

Johnson, who was said to support English, could not be reached for comment.

Pritzker said union members should have the option to vote for Dandridge.

"It's important that members of the BTU have the opportunity to vote for all of the candidates that they see fit," Pritzker said. "The key is to have a fair and open election. It seems unfair to have people running against her decide arbitrarily that she can't be a candidate."

The election is set for 10: 30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at six city school sites.

Pub Date: 5/15/98

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