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Columbia Missourian

Teacher elected to state House denied leave of absence

By The Associated Press
December 28, 2012 | 10:44 a.m. CST

WELDON SPRING — A longtime teacher from eastern Missouri who was elected to the Missouri House last month has accused his school board of playing politics by refusing to grant him a leave of absence.

Bryan Spencer, a Republican who has taught in the Francis Howell School District in St. Charles County for 22 years, is due to begin his new career in January. He sought a leave of absence to keep his job options open when his legislative tenure ends, but the school board denied the request, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Spencer, St. Charles County GOP Chairman Jon Bennett and state Rep. Mark Parkinson, another Republican from the county, said the board has regularly approved unpaid leaves for two leaders in a teachers union usually allied with Democrats.

"I'm asking for the same treatment those people received," said Spencer, who will be sworn in Jan. 9.

"All we can expect is consistency despite the aspirant's political leanings," Parkinson said.

Board President Marty Hodits said politics played no role in the 5-2 decision. He said the situation is different for the union officials — Chris Guinther, state president of the Missouri National Education Association, and Anita Miller, who heads the MNEA's Francis Howell affiliate — because they continue to work full time on education and often interact with the district.

"Where Mr. Spencer will be at, he will not be advocating" for the schools full time, Hodits said.

Spencer and his allies say he expects to spend a large percentage of his work in the legislature on education issues because of his background. He said he already has been appointed to a House appropriations committee on education spending, and he hopes to be named to another education panel as well.

But Hodits said the board felt that Spencer is essentially leaving teaching for another occupation.

"The decision was do you let somebody test drive a new job as long as they want and disrupt the education of students and then allow them back into the classroom" later, Hodits said.

Hodits said district policy allows leaves of absence for a variety of reasons — for example, teachers whose spouses move outside the St. Louis area for job reasons on a temporary basis.

Spencer said that a leave wouldn't guarantee him the exact job he has now but that in a district as large as Howell, vacancies are common. He most recently taught special education at Francis Howell North High School but said he also can teach social sciences.

Board member Mike Hoehn, who voted in support of Spencer's request, said he believed it would be similar to the leaves for the teachers union leaders' arrangements.