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FHN Teacher's Request for Leave Denied by District

Supporters of newly-elected State Rep. Bryan Spencer asked the Francis Howell school board to reconsider his request for a leave of absence while he serves in the state legislature.

Newly-elected State Rep. Bryan Spencer, R-District 63, worked his last day as a special education teacher for Francis Howell North High School on Jan. 7 and was sworn in as a state legislator on Jan. 9. 

Now he's fighting to be granted an unpaid leave of absence by the Francis Howell Board of Education which has twice denied his request, he said. 

Spencer said he'd like the opportunity to come back to the district as a teacher after serving the community as a state legislator. Under state law, legislators cannot hold government jobs, including teaching positions, during their term. 

Spencer could serve up to eight years if he is elected to four two-year terms. 

"I don't want to be a career politician," Spencer said. He's worked for the Francis Howell School District for 22 years teaching both special education and social science classes. 

District policy allows the board to grant a leave of absence for a variety of reasons, such as for a medical leave of absence or for a teacher whose spouse's job moves overseas. Board President Marty Hodits said these leaves are typically for just a year. 

Community Members Urge Board to Reconsider

On Thursday, Spencer and about 40 supporters attended the Board of Education meeting. Supporters have created a Facebook page and an online petition asking the Francis Howell Board of Education to grant Spencer the leave of absence. 

Several spoke out during the board meeting including Tony Yakich, a candidate for the Francis Howell Board of Education. Two seats are up for election April 2.

Yakich, a 2005 Francis Howell North High School graduate, said he had Spencer as a teacher and he helped him get to where he is in life today. 

"I hope the district will allow him to receive his unpaid leave while serving as State Rep.," he said. "Bryan has spent almost a quarter of his life improving his students' character."

St. Charles County Republican Central Committee Member Cheryl Bates said she believes the Francis Howell Board of Education has made the issue a partisan one because it has granted two teachers leave to serve as leaders of a teachers union, which is typically supported by Democrats. 

"I see a double standard here," she said.

Other St. Charles County Republicans have alleged politics are involved in this decision. Bates said she believes Spencer will be able to do more for education in the district than the leaders of the teachers union. 

"He's working for all of us," Bates said. "They're working for the teachers."

State Rep. Mark Parkinson, R-District 105, attended the meeting Thursday. He said the state legislature should look at this issue and see what can be done. 

"Just a policy where the school board can't arbitrarily grant or not grant a leave of absence so that everyone who goes into this knows what the policy is," he said. 

Board of Education members did not address audience comments during the meeting. The board met in closed session prior to the meeting and the issue was discussed at that time, said Board President Marty Hodits after the meeting. 

Hodits said the board has not approved the request for the leave of absence. He said Spencer is still employed by the district and declined to comment further about whether the district would seek to terminate Spencer. 

"There was nothing political about this, never," Hodits said, adding that based on this decision the board should deny any request for a leave of absence for anyone, Republican or Democrat, who goes to serve in the state legislature.

Hodits said the leave of absence granted to the leaders of the teacher's union is different from Spencer's request because they continue work with the district. 

Spencer said if the board does not grant his request for a leave of absence, he will consider all of his options, including filing a lawsuit.

"I really hope they do the right thing and treat all of the teachers the same," he said. 

KSadie January 18, 2013 at 01:35 PM
What am I missing here. Why is it such a big deal to grant him an UNPAID leave of absence? He will still be serving the public but in a different capacity. I don't get it.
Carole Paul January 18, 2013 at 03:13 PM
You're missing the R after Spencer's name.
Catherine Moody Dreher January 18, 2013 at 05:32 PM
Our Founding Fathers never intended for politics to become a career. The intent was for a person to serve their constituents for a few years and then return to the public sector. I hope Spencer is sincere in not wanting to be a career politician. It is unfortunate for him that Howell's policy allows them to arbitrarily decide who may receive an unpaid leave of absence. It's also unfortunate that this policy was not addressed years ago. It is something that should be addressed now, however I disagree with Rep. Parkinson's suggestion that this be taken up by our state legislature. Republicans generally stand for limited government and that should apply to the public school system. I believe this policy issue should be addressed at the local, community level; as Mrs. Bates is trying to do. Allow the local citizens to overturn the school board through voting and then amend policy. I'm wary of any sort of "top down" approach to the matter.
Catherine Moody Dreher January 18, 2013 at 05:33 PM
That should be "return to the private sector."
Stephen January 23, 2013 at 02:39 PM
Ok, what happens in 4 or 8 years when he returns, the District is supposed to dump a teacher of less tenure so he can have his job back? If he is a skilled and experienced teacher then his resume should bubble to the top of any stack of resumes. Maybe I am missing something but I doubt my employer would offer me the same...

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