Fresno teachers union election voided

The Fresno BeeJune 10, 2014 

Eva Ruiz

The recent election of officers for the Fresno Teachers Association has been voided after a vote by a teachers' representative group.

The FTA Rep Council, composed of teachers from each school in the district, voted Monday night to uphold a challenge to the April election of Tish Rice and her slate of officers.

Rice ran against incumbent president Eva Ruiz.

New officers' terms begin July 1, but the Rep Council vote sets the stage for a re-election.

But a re-election could face its own challenge. Any FTA member has 10 days to appeal Monday's decision -- and Tuesday afternoon Rice said she would appeal.

The latest election dispute comes just two years after the FTA was mired in challenges to the election of its president that required multiple ballots to resolve.

"Members are tired of the infighting and the power plays," Rice said Tuesday. "It's going to stop with us. We're going to stop this."

FTA Executive Director Rhonnie Tinsley said the California Teachers Association will step in if the Rep Council's decision is appealed.

If a re-election is not held by July 1, Rice and the other elected officers will remain in office at least until a new election, she said.

Tinsley said voiding a campaign doesn't happen very often. She would not discuss the grounds for Monday's vote by the Rep Council but said an FTA member challenged the election and the challenge was approved by FTA's election committee. The challenge was reviewed by the FTA's Rep Council, which voted to void the election.

Ruiz said she did not submit the election challenge.

The Rep Council vote was in closed session. Rice, a Fresno High math teacher, said she had not been questioned by FTA about the challenge and had not been told about the accusations against the campaign. But she said: "I can tell you there was no wrongdoing on the part of us."

Campaigning with Rice under the slogan "a united voice for teachers" were Adam Ebrahim for vice president, Debbie Henell for treasurer and Teri Reichert for secretary.

Ebrahim, a Cooper Academy eighth-grade lead teacher, said he had not been given any information on the substance of the challenge: "We've had no opportunity to respond to the allegations made in the challenge."

But FTA director-at-large Mai Summer Vue said the elections committee stated in a letter to the executive board that "there was a challenge and that somebody had used FTA resources to aid their campaign."

Vue said she did not know who made the challenge. But she said she was "disappointed the people who were accused never were told what they were accused of or who accused them."

Two years ago, Vue, a fourth-grade teacher, was ousted as FTA president after her victory in a runoff election against Ruiz was challenged. She was defeated in a second runoff election won by Ruiz. After the California Teachers Association called a third runoff election, Ruiz was victorious -- but only by two votes.

This latest election, which attracted only about 25% of the union's 3,500 members, was not a landslide: Rice picked up 50% of the votes and Ruiz got about 45%. A third candidate, Olga Valle-Quevedo, got slightly more than 1%.

Ruiz said Tuesday that if the Rep Council said there were violations in the campaign, FTA members "need to have the opportunity to vote."

Rosemary Velasco, FTA treasurer who was on the ballot for vice president, said she did not challenge the election but did have questions about it.

Velasco, a sixth-grade resource specialist at Vang Pao Elementary, would only say that her concerns were about "technology."

Ebrahim said the campaign was the cleanest in memory. "You can see our campaign online -- everything we do is out there and open to viewing."

Henell, a teacher at Design Science Early College High School, said she had no idea why the election was challenged and was discouraged by the Rep Council's decision.

But, she said, "mostly, it's frustrating with this constant division in our membership."

Staff writer Hannah Furfaro contributed to this report. The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6310, or @beehealthwriter on Twitter.

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