Tag Archives: Bryan Spencer

Republican teacher-turned-lawmaker sues Missouri school district after being fired over unpaid leave dispute

We reported on this story back in January. It appears there has been an update. This is cross-posted from EAGNews.

By Ben Velderman
EAGnews.org

ST. CHARLES, Mo. – High school teacher-turned-lawmaker Bryan Spencer was officially fired by Missouri’s Francis Howell School District earlier this week.

But that doesn’t mean the long-running dispute between Spencer and his former employer over his unpaid leave rights is settled.

Spencer spent 22 years with the district as a high school teacher, before getting elected to the Missouri House of Representatives the last November.

School leaders have consistently denied the veteran teacher’s request for unpaid leave from his job while he serves in the state legislature.

The school board took things a step further on Monday night and voted 5-2 to officially fire Spencer.

The board determined Spencer had violated his teaching contract with the district “by refusing to perform his duties” since early January, which is when his legislative term began, STLToday.com reports.

On Thursday, Spencer responded by filing a lawsuit against the school district in St. Charles County Circuit Court. In his complaint, Spencer describes the school board’s decision as “arbitrary and capricious,” and a violation of his constitutional rights to free speech and to seek and hold elective office, reports STLToday.com.

The crux of Spencer’s argument is that the district is discriminating against him because he is a Republican. Spencer notes that the district has routinely granted unpaid leave to officials of the local teachers union to tend to union business, which often benefits the Democratic Party.

“The board president has said the union officials are different because they work full time on education and interact often with the district,” the news site reports.

If the district had granted Spencer an unpaid leave of absence, he would not have received any of his salary, and he would have had to shoulder the costs for any job-related benefits he received.

An unpaid leave would have allowed Spencer to rejoin the district at a higher “step” on the salary schedule than when he left, the news site notes.

Mostly, the unpaid leave would have simply allowed Spencer to resume his teaching career with the district after his legislative career ends.

It was a minor issue that’s quickly becoming a major legal expense for the district, as the controversy is sorted out by the courts.

As one Facebook commentator notes, “Granting the leave would have cost the district nothing. Now, no matter which side prevails, this will cost the district a bunch of money. Being a resident and taxpayer in the Howell district, I believe that the board members who voted ‘no leave’ should pay the legal fees out of their own pocket. I pay taxes to help educate the kids, not to waste money.”

Comments Off

Filed under NEA, Teacher Unions

Missouri Teacher Turned Republican State Representative Locked in Battle With His School District

Bryan Spencer was elected to represent the people of West St. Charles County and Eastern Warren County last November.  Instead of being able to focus on legislative priorities in Jefferson City, the Missouri state capitol, he has to fight a battle with the Francis Howell School District.

Spencer decided to run for office after redistricting from the 2010 census due to request from parents, former student, colleagues, and members of community service/political/religious organizations encouraged him to run.  Before filing, he filled out a personal day form to take a day away from school to file for office.  He then consulted with his principal at Francis Howell North High School.  The principal explained that there had been other teachers that have filed for political offices and were not successful.  Spencer was wished the best of luck and told that it would be a great learning experience for him.

After winning the primary election, Spencer thought it would be good to ask for an unpaid leave of absence in case he won the general election. The Francis Howell School Board denied the request simply stating that they had reviewed the request and the request was denied.  There was no specific reasoning given for their denial. Spencer went on to win the November general election. Once again, he went to his school board and asked for an unpaid leave of absence.  This time Spencer listed precedent when other teachers have been granted leaves of absences for a variety of reasons.  The school board once again denied his request.

One might ask why should the district accommodate Spencer? The school district has granted numerous unpaid leaves for various reasons in the past. Most interestingly, the Missouri State NEA President is Chris Guinther. According to her biography on the MNEA website, Guinther is from the Francis Howell School District, and according to Spencer, she is currently on an unpaid leave of absence.  She has been on a leave of absence since 2001.  Spencer also claims that the current NEA President of the district’s local chapter, Anita Miller, is on an unpaid leave of absence. One would assume what is fair for the NEA is surely fair for an elected representative of the people.  There have been many teachers on leave for a variety of reasons.

On January 17 the Francis Howell School District had a closed door meeting to discuss the future of Spencer’s employment with the school district. Shortly after the meeting, Spencer received a letter from the district stating that he was in breach of his contract for excessive absenteeism. The district is currently pursuing a due process hearing for tenured termination. There is also a risk that the school district may pursue filing charges against Spencer with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). Depending on DESE’s response, Spencer risks losing his teaching certification with the state of Missouri.

To further complicate matters, Spencer could be in violation of the law. Missouri law states that a person cannot collect two paychecks from the government. Because he is fighting for the unpaid leave, Spencer has not voluntarily terminated his contract with the district. He has stopped any direct deposit of his salary, and he is not collecting his paycheck in any form.

Probably the saddest part of all of this is that Spencer was inducted into the Francis Howell Hall of Fame in the spring of 2011. Spencer has taught for twenty two years, all of which have been spent with the Francis Howell School District.

1 Comment

Filed under NEA, Teacher Unions