Rocky Road Ahead for Palm Beach County Teachers Union

The Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association has fired its interim executive director Tony Hernandez. The decision only came to light this week, although the vote to end Hernandez's contract with the teachers union was taken on March 5th. Hernandez's last day of employment is April 6th. After that date, he will continue to be the union consultant, the position he held until his directorship. Although he requested an explanation for this action, Hernandez claims that the Union President Debra Wilhelm failed to provide him with one.

The ouster, and its late announcement, was not well received by the union rank-and-file and even by the members of the board of director from which the decision originated.

Union board member Jane Kirkland said Wednesday she couldn't disclose why the board voted to remove Hernandez because it happened in executive session, but she blasted Wilhelm, saying she "has no clue what she's doing."

Wilhelm has not returned multiple calls seeking comment.

Many of the 12,000 teachers represented by the union expressed concern over the fact that the vote was held in secrecy and details of the firing weren't disclosed to the rest of the membership.

Teachers such as Les Kozlow have expressed anger mostly over the fact that the union didn't tell anybody publicly what it had done.

Another teacher, Susan Wein, said she walked out of a meeting Tuesday because Wilhelm wouldn't let teachers discuss the Hernandez issue. She blamed Wilhelm for the chaos and said she "destroyed the union."

Wein said that she was aghast at the fact that Wilhelm yelled at her when she tried to bring up the issue during the meeting. Wilhelm's email to Kozlow after the fact indicated that she was willing to discuss the issue in a "civil" manner, but would not be subject to what she called "bullying" by the membership.

According to Marc Drautz, who was a candidate for Union President but lost to Wilhelm's predecessor Robert Dow, said that the affair was emblematic of the lack of communication between the teachers and the union leadership, which has been an ongoing issue for many years.

Wein said union membership is lagging at only about 60 percent of all teachers.

Kozlow said he fears the turmoil will hurt the union's image and cause membership to drop below 50 percent.

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