Broward FL Union Under Criminal Investigation

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) began an audit in the summer of the Broward Teachers Union's (BTU) finances. And over the course of a two-month investigation, the AFT uncovered several anomalies, writes Mike Antonucci EIA Online.

The Broward State Attorney's Office and the Florida Elections Commission have both opened official investigations after union dues were apparently used to reimburse campaign contributions made by 26 "employees, board members and their relatives."

Union president Pat Santeramo has been accused of covering up a $3.8 million budget shortfall and accepting salary overpayments.

However, Santeramo has 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. Santeramo cited "a four year battle with an anti-union superintendent and school district trying to destroy this local."

AFT offered to bring in an outside financial consultant to straighten the BTU money troubles and have 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."

Despite having retained support among some members, four executive board members moved to have Santeramo expelled, and was able to have a vote scheduled for December 7.

They said:

"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, writes Antonucci.

Sister affiliate NEA will let AFT take the lead, reluctant to get involved, while the Florida Education Association continues to take a back seat. In this case, the FEA claims it "has little authority to leverage investigations or audits." But a spokesman did say:

"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."

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