Double Standard? Union Workers Get Leave, Legislator Denied

Teachers actively involved in union activities are frequently granted unpaid leave from their jobs to devote full-time efforts to union efforts, commonly called "release time."

That's what Bryan Spencer, a 22-year veteran teacher at the Francis Howell School District in St. Charles County, Missouri, hoped to be granted — unpaid "release time" — while he served in the State Legislature. Spencer, a Republican, was denied his request for unpaid leave.

In a 5-2 vote against Spencer's request, the Board deemed that since Spencer won't be working on education advocacy for the district full-time, he shouldn't be granted the same protection as teachers who undertake work for the union.

In the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Mark Schlinkmann writes that Spencer is looking to be as involved as possible in education-related policy in the legislature:

Spencer and his GOP allies say he expects to spend a large percentage of his work in the Legislature on education issues because of his background.

Spencer said he already has been appointed to a House appropriations committee on education spending. He hopes to be named to another education panel as well.

But that wasn't enough to convince the Board, who sees Spencer as leaving one job for another without enough connection to education to warrant leave.

Spencer, who first requested a possible 2-year leave when he won the Republican primary in August, was seeking unpaid leave with no expectations of having his specific job in special education saved for him. He was realistic that he would likely have to fill another position for which he was qualified.

Spencer said a leave wouldn't guarantee him the exact job he has now but that in a district as large as Howell, "there's always someone retiring" and creating vacancies.

That initial request was denied, so Spencer requested leave again and cited the frequent approval of leave for teachers engaging in union business.

Spencer's union, the Missouri National Education Association — the state's NEA affiliate — helped him draft his request but took no position on whether it should be granted.

The Board says that it isn't playing politics despite Spencer being a Republican. The MNEA, who traditionally enjoy enthusiastic Democratic support, has fielded two staff granted leave from Spencer's district.

"I'm asking for the same treatment those people received," said Spencer, who will be sworn in Jan. 9.

Matthew Tabor

Matthew Tabor

Matthew is a prolific, independent voice in the national education debate. He is a tireless advocate for high academic standards from pre-K through graduate school, fiscal sense and personal responsibility. He values parents’ and families’ rights and believes in accountability for teachers, administrators, politicians and all taxpayer-funded education entities. With a unique background that includes work in higher education, executive recruiting, professional sport and government, Matthew has consulted on new media and communication strategies for a broad range of clients. He writes the blog “Education for the Aughts” at , has contributed to National Journal’s ‘Expert’ blog for Education , and interacts with the education community on Twitter and Google+.
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