In 1765, a French Canadian fur trader stopped in a hilly area between what we know as Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. He helped establish a little trading post, making the tiny community the last stop before traveling into the western wilds of colonial America. In 1804, the Lewis and Clark Expedition stopped there to pick up the last of their supplies before heading west to the Oregon shores of the Pacific Ocean.
In time, the village became known as St. Charles and is considered by many to be the oldest city west of the Mississippi. In 1821, St. Charles was named as the first capital of the brand new state of Missouri and remained so until 1826.
Around the same time as St. Charles was founded, another small town sprung up just south of it on the other side of the Missouri River. That town eventually became known as St. Louis.
Today, St. Charles has a population of around 65,000 and home to the Francis Howell School District and a growing controversy over political discrimination charges. Bryan Spencer has been an elementary school teacher in the district for the past 22 years. In November, he was elected to the Missouri State House of Representatives. Upon his election, Spencer applied for an unpaid leave of absence from his teaching job for the time that he will spend at the state capital in Jefferson City.
However, the school board denied his request, basically forcing Spencer to have to resign from his teaching position in order to serve his district in the state legislature. Herein lies the issue. The same school board has approved other requests for unpaid leaves of absence from other teachers. Spencer pointed out that two other teachers in the district were granted their leaves in order that they could serve as leaders with the Missouri National Education Association, which is a politically driven union.
Spencer claims the difference is that the teachers union is Democratic controlled and that those involved with the union, including the two teachers from the same district actively campaigned for Democrats. Spencer is a Republican, and as such does not hold with some of the union practices. He believes that the school board denied his request for an unpaid leave because of his political party, so he sent in a second request for an unpaid leave, but the board voted 5-2 to deny him a second time.
When asked why they denied him his request, Marty Hodits, President of the School Board, said the two teachers were still in educational roles during their leaves and that serving in the state legislature is not considered an educational role. Hodits then said:
“The decision was do you let somebody test-drive a new job as long as they want and disrupt the education of students and then allow them back into the classroom.”
Using Hodits’s own logic, is not the absence from the classroom of the other two teachers and then their eventual return just as disruptive as it would be for Spencer? In all cases there would be the same amount of disruption or lack thereof.
Secondly, what educational experience would any of the teachers bring back to the classroom? In Spencer’s case, he would have a wealth of information to teach his students about how government works and how laws are made. The other two teachers would only bring back their experience on how to campaign for liberal policies and politicians. I’d much rather have my children in Spencer’s classroom than in the classrooms of the other two teachers.
Thirdly, is the fact that having Spencer in the state legislature would be good for the school district since he would be looking out for their benefit. Jon Bennett, Chairman of the Missouri GOP expressed that concept when he said it would be a mistake for the school board not to grant him the leave and possibly lose his support in the state House. In fact, Spencer has already been appointed to a committee on educational spending and plans to take up a number of educational issues while in Jefferson City.
When one looks at all of the evidence and precedence that has been set by the school board, it seems obvious that Spencer is being discriminated against because he is a Republican and not a liberal Democrat like the education union. I don’t know what his plans are, but I would hope that when he is not serving in Jefferson City that he will be able to find a teaching position with a school district who would see the value of having him as part of their staff. I wish him well as seeks to represent his district, even if some of them are against it.