Out-of-district teachers run for South Burlington School Board, former chair cites conflict of interest

SOUTH BURLINGTON — Two teachers are running for seats on the five-person South Burlington School Board, but a former board chair says there will be a serious conflict of interest if they win their races.

The candidates are Laura Williams, who teaches in Essex, and Tyler Samler, who teaches in Burlington.

Richard Cassidy, who was chair of the South Burlington School Board for six years and a member for 12, told True North that since the teachers are represented by the Vermont NEA, issues could arise from teacher negotiations.

Wikimedia Commons/Brad Perkins

CONFLICT?: A former chair of the South Burlington School Board says two teachers running for the board will essentially “sit on both sides of the table” during contract negotiations if elected.

“I didn’t say that they don’t have a right to run, just that voters have a right to take that into account,” Cassidy said. “The idea of a conflict of interest is that a public official shouldn’t decide on an issue if you have a personal stake in the issue.”

In a recent letter written to The Other Paper, Cassidy argued that teachers represented by the teachers union “have a financial interest in the outcome of the South Burlington teacher negotiations.”

He said the union has a statewide collective bargaining negotiation strategy that involves citing the pay and benefits of neighboring districts as leverage for demanding higher teacher compensation.

“Such comparisons often drive fact-finding reports and settlements,” he wrote.

Cassidy pointed out that with just five board members total, if any members had to recuse from negotiations, the remaining board members could become overwhelmed.

He also noted that since board members spend about half of all their time in negotiations of teacher contracts, a recusal would relieve about half their responsibilities.

Cassidy said he understands the trouble boards have filling their slots, but that electing out-of-district teachers could create new complications.

“I think people deserve credit for running. It’s a hard job,” he said. “ … I’m not trying to be critical of them as individuals, I’m just trying to say you shouldn’t be involved in government where you have a personal interest.”

The candidates running against Williams and Samler are incumbents Elizabeth Fitzgerald, the current chair, and Bridget Burkhardt.

True North reached out to Williams and Samler for comment, but only Samler responded in time for publication.

“State law is clear that the only prohibition of teachers serving on school boards is if they seek a seat in the district where they work. And that makes perfect sense,” Samler told True North.

“That both seats in South Burlington are being contested by teachers from neighboring districts who live here is a testament to a fundamental issue: the current school board is falling short of doing the best it can for our students.”

Samler said putting educators on school boards is increasingly necessary due to the types of challenges schools and students face. He also said the current board “spends more time fighting with teachers rather than working with teachers to address the needs of our city’s children.”

According to Samler, there is a conflict of interest, but it involves “high-value property owners, many of whom come from a business background, making decisions that impact children.” He added that teachers “have a clear interest in what’s best for kids.”

Darren Allen, communications director for the Vermont NEA, also took a shot at Cassidy, saying he’s anti-labor and wrong about conflict-of-interest issues.

“Richard Cassidy, who puts himself out there as a friend of labor, has consistently beaten up on teachers when he was board chair of South Burlington, and apparently he still wants to,” he said.

He said a conflict of interest arises only if the board member teaches in the same district as the board in question, which is already prohibited.

“Members who teach in one district and live in another and are running for their hometown school board, it’s not a conflict of interest,” he said. “This is a made-up issue by people who, frankly, are starting to sound like they are anti-teacher.”

Regarding the assertion that teachers cite what other districts are paying as a union negotiation strategy, Allen admitted it is standard practice, but added it does not amount to a conflict of interest.

“School boards confer with one another to make their offers — they look around, and in fact, it’s part of the law finding out what other districts are doing in surrounding areas,” he said. “It’s part of the labor process, it’s part of the negotiating process that’s been in place for over 50 years.”

“It’s absurd again to think that somehow board members get to have their say and educators are not qualified to serve on a school board. … We find it a disturbing pattern of some school board chairs, and former school board chairs, who obviously — I have no other way to put it — are anti-teacher.”

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at bielawski82@yahoo.com and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

Images courtesy of South Burlington School District and Wikimedia Commons/Brad Perkins

14 thoughts on “Out-of-district teachers run for South Burlington School Board, former chair cites conflict of interest

  1. This subject brought out the greatest fire from the parenthood and home owner class.

    Those who worry about college costs might realize that 2nd grade costs as much for the classroom part of college. Absolutely absurd

    Facing Todays school boards are like facing a trial jury of only police officers and other prosecutors ! you are dead meat!

    You have to pay that for the first dozen, or 15 years, before you an plan for college expenses.

  2. Out-of-district teachers serving on school boards is common fair in Vermont. Is it a conflict of interest? You bet it is. And it’s not just out-of-district teachers ‘serving’ ( I use the word with some trepidation) on school boards, it’s retired teachers, state employees and all their family members too.

    Given that public schools are typically the largest employers in a school district, is it any wonder they wield the power they do? The public school monopoly is the epitome of tyranny by the majority and Vermont’s small town town-meeting governance allows the oligarchy to keep the electorate in line. In true New England fashion, if anyone dares criticize the public schools publically, they wear the scarlet letter of shame as a child hater for an eternity.

    Where else can Vermont’s so-called ‘expert on testing and director of the National Educational Policy Center’ get away with explaining away Vermont’s poor academic performance as “… some systematic reason here, but what it is, I don’t know. It is a mystery to me.”

  3. As a former native of Vermont, one has to ask why are you all still paying into that poisoned tax well. Move before they impose an exit tax and a sale of residence tax if one is moving out of state. 50% seems like a reasonable number for your enjoying the Progressive hospitality of Ripton, East Muckboot or sunless Nebraska Valley.

    Here in the Palmetto State, we don’t pay school taxes on the first assessed $100,000 of the primary residence. We don’t have teacher’s unions either. Being a Vet and with the homestead allowance, my taxes on the house on one acre are $390/year including city water paved road frontage and no mud season.

    We do have some liberals but they’re down in the Low Country with the skeeters, gators, cottonmouths and the high humidity. They can stay there in Charleston; the occasional hurricane cleans them out.

    • So true Ed. I became fed up a few years ago, Packed my bags with my kids and didn’t look in the rear view mirror once. I can attest life in the Palmetto state has saved me tons of money of our families hard work. I can finally save for my kids higher education with some extra left over for a vacation. Couldn’t do that in VT.

      Rest assured I’m sure an Exit tax is around the corner.

      Go Clemson!

      • And your Social Security or military pension isn’t taxed either. your car won’t rust away in a year and a half and I don’t need two complete sets of seasonal clothing.

        Here,you can play golf all year long although they do have winter rules; you have to wear long pans from Jan. to the second week of Mar. In the winter, golf in Vermont requires stilts.

        • My neighbor a retired vet, who is also a disabled vet receives an additional reduction on his property taxes and vehicle tax. He pays $270/year on his house that is valued at ~$220,000

          Mind you that would be a $350,000 house anywhere around Burlington, and that said house would come with a $7000 tax bill per year.

          Think of the saving in JUST 10 years…

          Then here’s the kicker, the schools are all top rated and put the schools we had in Vermont to shame. So much happier, not to mention SC doesn’t teach Common Core to their students, we get school choice with transportation provided.

          Imagine and we still have weekly trash pickup. No need to travel to the dump in -20.

          It dumbfounds me why hard working Vermonters continue to take it up the keester and keep asking for more.

  4. It doesn’t matter considering almost every one of the 2000 or so school board members in the state is a insider with vested interest in the status quo. They are almost all rubber stamps for the NEA Agenda that will chase off anyone who isn’t a good team player. The NEA owns most of the legislators and media so there is no real opposition at all to them.

    The NEA probably fears a recession will hurt tax revenue so is trying to get their claws into income tax revenue so they can keep the status quo going even if a recession hits revenue hard they will just tell the politicians they bought and paid for to raise the income tax on the rich which will mean everyone with a penny left over after paying their bills.

    Burlington school budget $85 million is about $21,000 per student and nobody reports the real per pupil spending ? The school budgets are another version of ENRON accounting, not likely anyone can figure out where the money is going or how many kids are in the school.

    Total k-12 spending including pensions and overhead for Agency of Education and State Board of Education ?

    number of k-12 students ?

    Spending on pre-school baby sitting and number of kids ?


    The public has no clue Vermont spends double the national average because most of the media is owned by the NEA. Nobody is exposing the conflict of interest between many in the media who are connected to the NEA.

    The RINO should have replaced the Secretary of Education if he has the power to do so. The first thing he should have done is given her the boot and cleaned out the State Board of Education if he has the power to do so.

    The NEA plays the towns off against each other. The opposition should do the same thing by exposing the excessive per pupil spending in some school districts compared to the frugal districts. The NEA is working on getting a state contract and more control over the system. It’s easier to buy a few state officials than having to deal with 2000 school board members.

    Nothing will be done to change the status quo so Vermont will follow the same path as Detroit, Baltimore, the State of CT and other places and end up broke like the rest. Yuppism is a mental illness with no known cure. A generation of spoiled people born on third base and totally brain washed into the American Cult will crash and burn at some point. All the people who are awake can do is try and look out for themselves and stay out of the line of fire.

    As long as the only opposition to the NEA is a gang of Robber Barons who want to rob the treasury blind and steal from the poor while trying to jam morals down other peoples throats the public will decide the lessor of 2 evils is either the RED Cult or BLUE Cult.

    The children are the future.
    Future headlines after spending a 1/4 million dollars to turn out druggies.

    The Post WW2 American Culture is in critical condition and people still cling to systems that are failing to produce good results. Sanity would be k-8 public schools and no more public high schools. Than get all the frills out of the k-8 schools, no more sports, music, arts, put it under parks & recreation.

    America will cling to the goofy 1950’s Culture right to the end.

    John Grady G.E.D.
    Wood Shop Major

  5. The parasite from VT NEA accuses Cassidy of being anti-teacher. I doubt that, though he is probably anti-teachers-union as any sensible person would be.

  6. Teachers will stop at nothing to keep and maintain their dominance over the taxpayer. Doesn’t matter what town they reside or where employed as they think. Hey, teachers from Swanton can run for school board in Guilford, why not? They may seek travel pay. Makes sense to them, not me. School boards control local school systems. These teachers seek control, a deprived mental state. Not satisfied with what they have. What’s next, the Legislature, etc?

    If they tried this tactic in NH, they know they’d be drummed out of that state.

    • Wrong,sorry to say.In Claremont we have teachers,or spouses of teachers that fill school board seats.Another popular tactic is having alternate public union members sitting on the school board.We have a big union fireman sitting on our school board.They award these outrageous health insurance and pension pkgs. while the populace struggles to keep afloat.

      When the fire contract came up,they compare wages to that of Manchester.I’m sure in turn Manchester compares wages to Boston.These people haven’t heard that the incomes this far north can’t support the blue blood class of public employees.

      80 some odd people lost their homes in Claremont due to delinquent property tax.So you see,the “Liberalism”only goes so far.When it comes to the public union pocket book all of this humanity B.S. goes straight out the window.

      Claremont,NH.is now circling the drain.

  7. Not a city resident and you are just as Illegal as the the Illegal Alien sneaking across our borders,sorry,next potential candidate who is actually a resident of said city.

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