By Ben Velderman
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.”