Criminal Investigation Leads to AFT Administratorship in Broward

I thought about reporting on this yesterday, but decided to wait for the other shoe to drop. The AFT didn’t disappoint.

There are a lot of details and conflicting accounts of the situation, so I’ve tried to frame it chronologically.

In August, the American Federation of Teachers began an audit of the Broward Teachers Union’s (BTU) finances. Who at BTU asked for the audit is a matter of contention, but AFT uncovered several anomalies in the course of its two-month investigation.

Among them was the apparent reimbursement out of union dues for campaign contributions made by 26 “employees, board members and their relatives.” This is, needless to say, illegal. The Broward State Attorney’s Office and the Florida Elections Commission were notified, and both agencies opened an official investigation.

Members of BTU’s executive board accused union president Pat Santeramo of not only being complicit in the reimbursement, but also covering up a $3.8 million budget shortfall and accepting salary overpayments. Santeramo retains support among some board members, leading to infighting over corrective measures.

Santeramo blamed the budget shortfall on the union’s decision to absorb dues hikes from the national and state affiliates, rather than pass them on to the members. He also cited “a four year battle with an anti-union superintendent and school district trying to destroy this local.”

BTU accepted AFT’s offer of an outside financial manager to straighten out the local’s money troubles. AFT pledged to underwrite the cost of the manager’s services. Santeramo also promised to establish a PAC regulation training program for union officers, which presumably would instruct them that giving people union dues to donate to politicians is not only wrong, but could send you to jail.

Four executive board members moved to have Santeramo expelled, and was able to have a vote scheduled for December 7. They wrote:

In conclusion, along with the board, our members will consider it disgraceful that a president, of a teachers’ union, was able to mismanage and misappropriate funds without the board’s knowledge, and still be allowed to stay in office.

Since Santeramo shows no inclination to resign, the chances for an internal power struggle on top of criminal investigations prompted AFT to appoint an administratorship over the local.

BTU is an affiliate of both NEA and AFT, through the merged state affiliate the Florida Education Association. But, as has been past practice, NEA has let AFT take the lead with its former locals, and the FEA continues to take a back seat. In this case, FEA claims it “has little authority to leverage investigations or audits.” But it did trot out its spokesman to recite:

“This is an allegation that’s [been] brought against one individual or a small group of individuals. That shouldn’t be viewed as a representation of unions. It’s important that teachers have a voice.”

Of course, the whole point of the brouhaha is that teachers didn’t have a voice in their own union, and that Santeramo is more than “an individual.” He is the head of one of the largest teacher union locals in the nation, and is an AFT vice president to boot. The four BTU board members took their responsibilities more seriously:

Unlike anyone in the State of Florida, Pat’s actions have put in jeopardy the entire union movement and everything unions stand for. The word of what he has done as the president of BTU has spread throughout the state. All those who know about what happened are waiting for the Executive Board to do their elected duty – what is best for all unions and the members. Our members must have confidence in their elected leaders if we are ever truly to move forward and have any kind of future. The decision is inevitable and the longer the Executive Board fails to take the action on behalf of the members, the more damage will be done to the BTU and potentially all unions.

Whatever Santeramo has done, he is actually the least reprehensible recent BTU president. He took over the position in 2001 after his predecessor was charged and plead guilty to attempting to entice a minor into a sex act and sending child pornography over the Internet. He was sentenced to 48 months in prison. And Santeramo’s actions are small potatoes when placed aside those of Pat Tornillo.

Maybe it’s something in the South Florida water.