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United Teachers of Dade face 'transformational' election

In a few days, thousands will cast secret ballots in an election that could go largely unnoticed outside Miami-Dade schools despite its implications on the future of education locally and statewide.

The United Teachers of Dade will choose new leaders Feb. 19. And with standardized testing, charter schools and teacher evaluations as polarizing as ever, much is at stake both for the largest teachers union in the state and Miami-Dade’s 350,000 public school students.

Making the election more important, yet unpredictable: longtime President Karen Aronowitz is stepping down, guaranteeing new leadership for a union that has had just two presidents in half a century. That means the relationship between UTD and Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who Aronowitz once said “might be the best superintendent in the nation,” will change, too.

“It’s a transformational election,” said Brian Peterson, a Florida International University assistant professor of history who follows labor unions and education. “It’s really important. If we do this right, we’ll have a better education system.”

The looming power vacuum — and $134,000 president’s salary — has drawn six candidates from four slates and a circus atmosphere of rumors, robo-calls and push polls. Meanwhile, there is plenty of talk of division as Aronowitz’s two top lieutenants campaign for her job, critics contest contract after contract, and a 2-year-old lawsuit challenging the results of the last election continues in circuit court.

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