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PTO President's Employment Raises Issue

Conflict Of Interest Objection Raised Over His Being Teachers Union Organizer

Steven Goode

October 07, 2010

HARTFORD — — At least one parent has raised an objection that the newly elected president of the parent-teacher organization at the Annie Fisher STEM School is an organizer for the teachers union, and a parent group council is expected to discuss rule changes that would disallow union officials from leadership roles in the future.

Daniel Durant, a community organizer for the Connecticut chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, ran unopposed and was unanimously elected president of the Annie Fisher STEM School Parent-Teacher Organization Tuesday.

He said he made clear to parents before the vote that his organization is an advocate of teachers unions, including the Hartford Federation of Teachers.

But parent Shay Teal said Thursday that Durant only used the organization's intitials during discussion and didn't explain the nature of his organization's work. She and others only learned about the connection to the teachers union after the vote and consider it to be a conflict of interest.

"We're not going to be able to express ourselves freely because he is on the teachers' side," Teal said. "This is really uncomfortable."

Teal said she and other parents hoped Durant would reconsider and resign before the next meeting next month.

"He needs to step down. That's the only voice we have," she said. "And he needs to apologize."

Although Teal said other parents share her concerns, none has come forward to complaint.

Durant vehemently denied trying to mislead parents and said he saw no conflict of interest.

"I volunteered to be part of an organization as a parent of a child in that school," Durant said. "I have a right. We all have jobs."

Durant said that in his position as a membership and community organizer, many of his responsibilities are focused on getting more teachers involved in PTO activities and that his work experience could help Annie Fisher's organization.

Milly Arciniegas, president of the Hartford Parent Organization Council, a consortium of city parent-teacher organizations, disagreed, saying that Durant would be inclined to advocate for teachers rather than parents.

Arciniegas said she would call a meeting of the council to discuss whether to change bylaws to prohibit teachers and union advocates from holding executive positions on parent-teacher groups or becoming members of school governance councils.

Eric Bailey, communications director for the American Federation of Teachers in Connecticut, said Thursday that as a former PTO president at John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Windsor, he was proud of Durant for stepping up and volunteering.

He also offered advice, such as getting as many other parents as possible involved and starting a school newsletter. The Annie Fisher STEM School opened in August and this is its first parent-teacher organization.

As for the allegation of a conflict of interest, Bailey said there is none.

The PTO doesn't get involved in hiring and firing and [doesn't] do contracts" he said. "They do fundraisers and field trips."

Bailey said he was disappointed that Arciniegas, who advised parents on the formation of the parent-teacher group at the school and has also been critical of the Hartford teacher union's seniority policy, would choose to single out Durant.

"I think it's wonderful that Milly came in and lent her expertise at Annie Fisher, but it's disappointing that she's trying to undermine Daniel Durant just because he works for AFT Connecticut," Bailey said. "There is no conflict. If she can point one out I'd like to have a conversation with her."

Annie Fisher Prinicipal Melany Brady declined to comment on the matter and deferred to David Medina, the school district's spokesman.

Medina said the disagreement was an "internal matter involving the PTO" and that the district wouldn't presume to influence a resolution one way or another.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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