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.