Typo or trick? Candidate says PBC teachers union ballot likens him to Trump

Only one of these men is Donald J., but the PBC teachers union ballot renamed candidate Donald Persson (right) as Donald J. Persson, something Persson said has negative connotations for many teachers and union members.

It’s no secret that the top leaders of Palm Beach County’s teachers union are not big fans of Donald Persson.

Three years ago, the Palm Beach Central High math teacher sued the union, the Classroom Teachers Association, after losing the union’s 2014 presidential election in a controversial vote marred by recounts and mishaps.

Since then, the 58-year-old math teacher has been a self-described thorn in union leaders’ sides, criticizing what he sees as financial mismanagement and a lack of transparency in the organization, which represents roughly 12,000 public school teachers countywide.

This year, Persson is running again to be union president, and it hasn’t been a smooth ride.

First, union leaders removed him and three other candidates from the ballot after accusing them of campaign or eligibility violations.

A rogue “J” mysteriously appeared in Persson’s name on the ballot.

The candidates were all restored after the state teachers union, the Florida Education Association, said removing them for minor violations was “inappropriate and excessive.”

The following week, union leaders omitted the names of Persson and three other candidates in a message to thousands of teachers about the election, while praising four other candidates by name.

That move prompted accusations of favoritism and a rebuke from Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa, who said the message violated his agreement with union president Kathi Gundlach about use of the school district’s email system.

This week, ballots began arriving by mail to teachers’ homes, bringing with them what Persson says was the final insult – a conspicuously placed letter “J”.

While Persson’s name is correctly printed in the column for the presidential race, in two other races where he is a candidate — to be a union delegate to the state and national unions — someone put his middle initial as “J”, meaning his name appears in both places as Donald J. Persson.

“J” is not Persson’s middle initial. It’s “R”. But “J” is the middle initial of another outsider presidential candidate widely disdained by teachers and union leaders – President Donald J. Trump.

An inadvertent error? Or a dig at Persson as a Trump-like rabble-rouser?

“I’m just wondering if they’re trying to make a connection to Donald J. Trump for all the Trump haters,” Persson said. “Because it just doesn’t make sense.”

CTA President Kathi Gundlach said in an interview that at some point a union official must have added a “J” to Persson’s name on the ballot — twice. It’s the only apparent case of a error in a candidate’s name.

She said she’s not sure who did it or how it got by her and others who proofread the ballot. But she said she is sure that it was accidental.

“It was a typo,” she said. “We’re going to send out an apology. It was very unintentional.”

Julie Owen, chairwoman of the union’s election committee, declined to comment, referring all comments to Gundlach.

But Persson said he doubted the rogue letter was accidental. Last month, he said, Gundlach referred to him in a meeting as “Donald J. Persson.”

When he told her that wasn’t his middle initial, he recalled, she corrected herself, saying “That’s the other Donald.”

In an interview, Gundlach admitted that she had misstated Persson’s name in a recent meeting, and that he had corrected her. She said the reference was unintentional.

“I made an error,” she said. “I apologized at that time. It just didn’t dawn on me that we needed to recheck the documents. But it was truly unintentional.”

Persson said he hopes the rogue letter doesn’t affect the election.

“It just is peculiar,” he said. “It’s just another drop in the bucket. They’re fighting hard.”

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