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No pay for felony-charged teachers

Published (3/9/2012)
By Erin Schmidtke
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School districts may suspend with pay teachers who are charged with felonies. That could soon change to an unpaid suspension.

On March 6, the House Education Finance Committee approved HF2651, which would authorize districts to withhold pay from teachers during any time they face an ongoing felony charge. If a teacher is found not guilty, districts must then reimburse the compensation the teacher would have received during that time.

Rep. Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie) sponsors the bill. She is concerned that schools are paying salaries to potential felons, with no way of getting the money back if the suspended teacher is convicted.

Loon explained that in the cases she has reviewed, teachers who are charged with felonies are frequently the subject of investigations surrounding criminal sexual conduct with students. She urged the committee to support the bill as a reasonable protective measure for Minnesota schools.

Grace Keliher, director of governmental relations for the Minnesota School Board Association, agreed.

“No school district would be forced to reward wrongdoing in the case that a teacher has been found to have committed a felony that would result in termination,” she said.

Jan Alswager, chief lobbyist for Education Minnesota, claimed that the bill may have unintended consequences. Alswager described a case where a teacher faced a felony charge when a disgruntled student placed marijuana in her briefcase. She added that the bill could place undue stress on teachers who may be innocent.

Rep. Tom Anzelc (DFL-Balsam Township) also opposed the bill. He argued that felony charges take months to resolve, which is too long for a teacher’s family to go without the money.

“We get to come here in a nice, warm building in January and walk around here like we’re big shots, and that classroom teacher may not be able to survive (foregoing) a paycheck without serious financial harm to the family,” Anzelc said.

The bill now awaits action by the House Education Finance Committee. It has no Senate companion.

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