Should Teachers Be Given Leave to Serve in Legislatures?

I don’t have a position on this one way or the other, but the issue has arisen in the Francis Howell School District in Missouri. Newly elected state Rep. Bryan Spencer has been a teacher there for 22 years and asked district officials for an unpaid leave of absence while he serves. The school board turned him down on a 5-2 vote.

Two union officers are on unpaid leave from the district, including Missouri NEA president Chris Guinther, who has received such leaves since 2001. The school board says that’s different, because they continue to interact with the district.

“Where Mr. Spencer will be at, he will not be advocating” for the schools full time, said school board president Marty Hodits.

Oh, by the way, Spencer is a Republican.

Missouri NEA helped Spencer write his request for leave, but took no position on whether he should receive it.

I’ve come across quite a few collective bargaining agreements that have specific provisions allowing teachers an unpaid leave of absence while they serve in state legislatures or appointed positions in state government. The issue isn’t as simple as “allow it” or “don’t allow it.” Complicating factors include whether the teacher will continue to earn retirement credits while on leave, and whether there is a limit on the length of the leave. Some union officers, for example, can be on leave for decades.

Should serving in state government be equivalent to military service, or should it be considered a change of career? Opinions?


One thought on “Should Teachers Be Given Leave to Serve in Legislatures?”

  1. Missouri has two extra complications added to this issue.

    The state of Missouri bars the MNEA from being recognized as a union. It can only exist as a professional organization; that means that anyone can join and no one is required to join (and so it cannot represent teachers in any contract negotiations). As a result, it’s main purpose is to lobby on behalf of districts rather than teachers; a significant part of MNEA membership is school administrators rather than teachers. Districts have been pretty clear that they do not want the MNEA to take a position on this issue.

    And the issue is that the Missouri Constitution bars public employees from serving as a state rep. It is an unresolved question as to whether or not this applies to public school teachers; so the school district would almost certainly be facing a lawsuit if it did grant a leave of absence. Francis Howell is taking this action to avoid the legal fight that would follow.

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