Spencer fights to retain tenure in FHSD
By: Michael R. Smith
In the last two hours of day-long public hearing March 8 in which the Francis Howell School District Board of Education heard arguments about whether or not to dismiss Bryan Spencer from his teaching position, Spencer took the stand to say that he is only asking for what other district educators before him have received: an approved leave of absence.
Spencer requested the leave after winning a seat as a Republican in the Missouri House of Representatives for District 63 last November. The school board denied the request.
Authorized leave from his teaching position would allow Spencer — a 22-year FHSD educator — to retain his teaching tenure, salary, and benefits. It would also allow him to possibly return to Francis Howell once he has completed his legislative role.
Spencer’s last classroom day was Jan. 8. He was sworn in to his House seat the next day.
After he failed to return to the classroom the school board began dismissal proceedings against him for what Cindy Ormsby, attorney for the district, described as “excessive absenteeism,” “willful and persistent violation of district policy and state law,” and breach of district contract.
“The board only needs to find him guilty on one of those accounts,” Ormsby said. “That’s sufficient to terminate his contract.”
District administration contends that Spencer has had an unauthorized absence since Jan. 8. Also, it cites a Missouri statute that prohibits legislators from being simultaneously employed in other state agencies. That includes public school teaching positions. Finally, FHSD says Spencer breached his contract by not completing his teaching responsibilities.
Spencer said, “So many people had gotten approval (for a leave of absence) for so many different reasons. I’m not violating any laws by asking for a leave of absence.”
His counsel, Alexander Kourbatov, introduced a letter from House of Representatives General Counsel Alexander Curchin that states Spencer would not be in violation of Missouri law regarding simultaneous state agency employment if he doesn’t receive district compensation while serving the state.
Another district concern, Superintendent Pam Sloan said, is that Spencer would miss professional development sessions that are necessary to remain up-to-date on education trends, resources, and instruction.
“It would be impossible, to catch up after eight years” away from the classroom,” Sloan said.
Eight years is the maximum time House members can serve because of term limits. In his request for a leave of absence Spencer did not provide a statement of his time away from the district and has not said he will limit his House role to a single, two-year term.
Ormsby said that those development situations included weekly Professional Learning Community sessions, once-a-month faculty meetings, occasional Individual Education Plan discussions, and seminars during each semester.
Kourbatov countered that others who have been granted leaves of absence have also missed those development sessions.
Spencer said that his participation on four House committees that deal with education topics will keep him up to date. “I’ve learned more about (education) than I would as a teacher,” Spencer said.
He told the board that he’s not looking to be a career politician and that he made a heavy financial sacrifice, besides other sacrifices, to serve the state. He said that his salary “as a legislator is less than half” his FHSD salary.
As a special education teacher with his training and time in the district he said his 2012-13 salary is $71,430. The Missouri House website says that first-year members make $35,915 annually.
The board did not make a decision on whether or not to terminate Spencer following the hearing. It is awaiting a deposition in the next week from a witness that was unable to attend Friday’s hearing.
However, after the meeting Spencer said he believes the board’s decision “was determined before I came in.” But, he also said that he didn’t expect to win his House seat. “I’m there and now I’m working hard again.”