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School Board Member Plays to Teacher Union Officials

Vermont Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe’s /Chief of Staff, Peter Sterling, also serves as a Montpelier School Board member, but his sentiments are obviously on the side of teacher union officials. Mark Johnson and Tiffany Danitz Pache have the story in the vermontdigger.org.

Last week Sterling became embroiled in a controversy when he advocated that the Montpelier board leave the Vermont School Boards Association and Vermont Superintendents Association.

Sterling objected to the role the two organizations have played helping Gov. Phil Scott with his proposal to shift contract negotiations over teacher health benefits from local school boards to the state.

Ashe and the Democratic leadership have opposed statewide collective bargaining for teachers’ health care.

The impasse is the primary reason the Legislature delayed adjournment Friday.

In a strongly worded letter to friends, who then circulated it on Facebook, Sterling called the VSBA and VSA “union busters” that are “pimping” the governor’s proposal. Sterling wrote that he did not like Scott’s plan because he doesn’t think it will save taxpayers money.

Scott’s plan would “gut” collective bargaining, Sterling said, and he believes the plan strips teachers of what he called a “fundamental right” to negotiate with their employers, i.e. the local school boards. Sterling also said he has worked for unions, organized unions and walked picket lines during three decades supporting union rights.

Sterling argued in the letter that taxpayer money should not pay for membership dues to the Vermont School Boards Association and the Vermont Superintendents Association.

School board members are required to abide by conflict of interest policies. Montpelier School Board members promise to be ethical and businesslike and to use decorum. More specifically, they agree to represent the interest of all citizens in the school district.

The policy says board members must be accountable to the whole district and that supersedes “any conflicting loyalty a member may have to other advocacy or interest groups, loyalty based upon membership on other boards or staffs.”

Sterling may have tripped over another item in the code of conduct agreement when he went after four board members, by name, whom he said support a statewide contract.

“I think it is important that these four school board members cop to supporting union busting in front of as many Montpelier residents as possible,” Sterling wrote.

In an interview, Sterling said he has not read the code of conduct agreement.

The governor has claimed that by moving negotiations over teacher health care to the state level the state can find up to $26 million in savings for taxpayers while still giving teachers the same benefits they have now. Scott says the savings can be realized only with a statewide contract that would ensure every district has the same deal. The total savings Scott touts assume bargaining will result in an 80/20 premium split.