- Faith & Family
It’s less than two weeks [Feb. 19] before members of the United Teachers of Dade will cast their vote for a new slate of officers. Their term becomes effective at the end of the current school year. And on Tuesday evening, candidates for all of the offices assembled for a meet and greet, followed by a Q&A session for those running for president, vice-president and secretary/treasurer. In terms of the top office, there are five candidates running for president: Dr. James Bush, III; Federick ‘Fed’ Ingram [the current UTD secretary/treasurer]; Artie Leichner; Kimberly Robinson; and Ceresta Smith. A sixth candidate, Blanca Rosa Rodriguez, has indicated interest in the position but did not submit information to the UTD executive office.
Karen Aronowitz, UTD president since 2005, says her biggest job has been working as a “talent scout.”“I am always looking for ways that our members can represent the best of the union to our community,” she said. “And while there are some who would like to push unions aside both locally and nationally, we are still an important entity. Teachers serve on the frontline for students and for what happens in the classroom. If we really believe that education is important then we have to make teaching an an attractive profession. That means properly compensating those in education.”
The three Black candidates running for president include: Bush, 57, Ingram, 39 and Smith, in her 50s. All three are veterans in the field of education.
Bush, a 24-year educator, and graduate of Miami Northwestern , Bethune-Cookman University , Nova Southeastern  and Smith Chapel Bible University , says he’s running to “provide leadership and to expand my reach as an advocate of economic development for union members . . . and direct services to youth.”
“I aim to provide the kind of leadership that will ensure that the union’s basic function is promoted and achieved. I have 30 years of leadership experience and my voice is known among national leaders throughout this country. As president I will make a difference.”
His platform includes the following: transparency; true member representation and political influence; and growth.
Smith, a native of Iowa, earned her B.A. in Literature from American University in Washington, D.C. Her platform includes: affordable healthcare; transparency and open access; development of a living wage; equitable and ethical evaluations; and an end to reduction in force initiatives.
“We need to re-energize our unions with aggressive local, state and national leadership that will fight the bi-partisan privatization of public schools on the ground level,” she said. “As president of UTD, I could have a greater reach than what I do now in terms of educating and organizing the rank and file . . . UTD leadership would make it easier to engage folks in direct actions to promote and protect quality and equity in public education both for teachers and their learners.”
Smith also said she wants to see an end to the overemphasis on high-stakes testing, “which directly serves the school-to-prison pipeline.”
Ingram, a graduate of Miami Jackson and Bethune-Cookman University, was also the Miami-Dade Teacher of the Year in 2006 and was elected as the UTD secretary/treasurer in 2007. He says teachers need a voice in public education.
“Teachers have to advocate for what’s right in the classrooms and what happens between the family, school and the community,” he said. “It’s important to have a new brand of leadership in this changing world and to have someone who understands the Miami story and its fiber — someone from this community. I’m running to lead this community to greater heights. Many of our children live with surrogate parents so we have to do more than educate them — we must meet them where they are and provide alternative tracks for those who are not going to college. We also have to get back to providing moral education and character building.”
Ingram’s platform includes: restructuring the class day to accommodate students who have infants or must work to provide income for their families; making sure that the union works with a balanced budget; advocating for quality in the classroom; and creating a culture of learning.
Ingram has also garnered the endorsement of Aronowitz in his quest for the presidency of UTD.
“I believe that ‘Fed’ is our strongest candidate — primarily because I think he wants to do what’s in the best interest of the union’s membership,” she said. “I am concerned that the other candidates are more focused on their own self interests. Some of what they are saying in terms of their motivation for running I find highly suspect.”
UTD has an estimated membership of 16,000 and is comprised of teachers, para-professionals; clerical workers and security monitors.
By D. Kevin McNeir