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PBC teachers elect union president, VP on 3rd try; lawsuit lingers

Palm Beach County teachers have elected a union president and vice president after nearly five months and three runs at the ballots, the union announced Wednesday.

The membership elected school psychologist Kathi Gundlach president and middle school science teacher Bill Rizzo as vice president of the Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association.

The CTA board of directors is scheduled to certify the election results Monday.

Naming new leadership proved more daunting than most expected, and a lawsuit in the matter continues to work its way through the courts. The Florida Education Association President Andy Ford was called in July to manage day-to-day operations until an election could name successors to the top offices.

The CTA represents roughly 12,000 teachers. Election troubles began shortly after teachers first cast their ballots for officers April 4.

After weeks of counting the paper ballots and more than 75 challenges, the CTA called in the Florida Education Association to recount the votes. Incumbent President Debra Wilhelm and teacher Don Persson finished first and second in the race for president, but neither landed more than 50 percent of the vote, prompting a runoff.

Traditionally, the CTA’s runoffs pitted the two candidates with most votes against one another. But a review of the CTA bylaws revealed the field should be open to anyone who received votes on the first ballot, Ford said.

Wilhelm and Gundlach finished first and second , though neither held a 50 percent of the votes. This time, the union’s board changed the bylaws so only the top two candidates would go to a runoff.

That move pushed Persson out of the running and he sued to block the results of the second election and force the union to hold a runoff based on the first – Persson and Wilhelm. That suit was filed in state court but moved to federal court, said Richard Monescalchi, one of the attorneys representing Persson.

Lawyers continue to argue over which court, federal or state, has jurisdiction, Monescalchi said. Only when that is settled, can a judge rule on whether the latest ballot is valid or not.

The argument, however, did not stop the teachers from a third round of voting. Ballots were due to the CTA Tuesday and the count went into the evening, with about a third of the membership having voted, Ford said.

This time, Gundlach claimed more than 50 percent of the vote.

If a judge should intervene?

“Whatever the judge tells us to do, we’ll do,” Ford said.

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