Teacher’s five-year leave request leaves Hibbing scrambling

What would happen at your workplace if you wanted to take some time off? Five years worth of time off?

Some members of the Hibbing, Minn., school board are asking that question as they consider what to do about teacher Thad Johannessohn’s request for a five-year leave of absence. He also runs a building company.

He’s allowed to request the leave under the union contract, the Hibbing Daily Tribune says. Teachers can request three- or five-year leaves, although the school board isn’t required to grant it.

“I don’t know why we do this. They don’t do this in private industry,” school board chair Kathy Nyberg said. “I don’t believe in granting leaves in general. Personally, they’re the ones who decided to leave their job. You can’t expect your company to leave a position open for you for five years in case you change your mind — that’s a long time.”

The principal of Hibbing High School says he’s got a candidate to fill the industrial-arts position on a fill-in basis.

The school board has tabled the request until the candidate decides whether he’d take the job if offered, the paper says.

  • MrE85

    “I don’t know why we do this. They don’t do this in private industry,” school board chair Kathy Nyberg said. “I don’t believe in granting leaves in general. Personally, they’re the ones who decided to leave their job. You can’t expect your company to leave a position open for you for five years in case you change your mind — that’s a long time.”

    Dear Ms. Nyberg. You are not in charge of a private business. This is an educational facility, and we do things a little differently here. You’re the one who decided that you wanted the job as board chair. You should know what your workers are allowed to request, as spelled out in their labor contract. You HAVE read the contract, right?

    • She didn’t say she didn’t KNOW this stuff.

      She’s asking why schools’ leave policy should be different than private business?

      Those are not the same thing.

      • MrE85

        It’s possible that Johannessohn will come back in 5 years a better trained and focused educator. It’s also possible that an retired teacher might want to come back, to take advantage of the health benefits and return to the profession they love.
        If such an arrangement could be made (and the teacher seeking leave would have been wise to seek it out first), than why not?

        • I wonder, particularly in a small school district, whether it reduces the pool of qualified candidates — if there’s a pool at all — if you have to move there (assuming you’re a qualified teacher) knowing your job is gone after 5 years? (or three)

          • MrE85

            Good questions, all.

          • J-dawg

            Hibbing is on the Iron Range. They are used to jobs coming and going. Almost everyone I’ve come into contact with here has lived/worked in the Cities for some period of time.

    • Mike

      Yeah, that’s a pretty sweet contract provision that the vast majority of private sector workers would have no hope of obtaining. This is why people hate public employee unions. As a taxpayer in a private sector job, why should I have to pay for benefits for others that are far beyond what I receive?

      • Pretty much for the same reason why another private sector job pays their employee more than you’re making.

        The marketplace dictated the provision. The only purpose of the union was to do it collectively, rather than singularly. But the provision itself — and any provision of a contract — is negotiated, not imposed. Just as you negotiated your deal with your company when you took your job.

        • Mike

          The problem with public employee unions is that there’s no effective counterweight on the management side. Politicians are simply spending other people’s money, not their own (or their business’s). This makes it very easy to cave on benefit provisions that private sector workers can only dream of; the buck is simply passed to the taxpayer.

          • Heb Ienek

            Amen to that. In the Twin Cities, getting the endorsement of the teachers union is like getting the keys to the building.

          • Thomas Mercier

            You’re right, there’s absolutely no way to hold those politicians accountable. If only there was a way that we could judge their performance as a public and give them an up or down sign of support.

          • Mike

            People rarely base their vote on an issue like this one. But sure, to follow your logic, there must be some reason why public sector-friendly politicians (i.e., Democrats) have failed to win many elections lately. Perhaps the public is paying more attention to this than I thought.

          • I swear at this point, people will point to the Patriots win on Sunday and somehow exclaim, “and THAT’S why Democrats lost the election.”

          • Mike

            Agreed, but my last post was sarcasm.

          • J-dawg

            Yeah, it’s not like government money is allocated by a pretermined budget set by people that we elect to determine that budget…

      • tboom

        Have you considered organizing a union?

        • Heb Ienek

          Because the best way to prove a rule is not as ridiculously counter-productive as it really is, is to make sure everyone has to abide by it.

      • Thomas Mercier

        I always wonder why folks accuse unions of providing benefits that there is no way they would ever get in their positions. Unions are there to protect rights, if you don’t get something, why is it the union’s fault? I think dislike for unions is sometimes rooted in jealous.
        P.S. General thoughts not necessarily directed to you in particular Mike.

        • Heb Ienek

          Why is it that union apologists always assume that people complain about abusive contract benefits and rules because they secretly want them for themselves.

          Seriously, there are people out here that still believe wrong is wrong without self-interested motivations.

          • tboom

            Mike said “… no hope of obtaining.”

          • Heb Ienek

            OK. Why is it that union apologists always assume that people complain about abusive contract benefits and rules because they know they can’t ever have them for themselves?

            Self-interest is the point.

          • Thomas Mercier

            Mike’s first two sentences dealt with the provision of the contract. The second two sentences are generally accusatory of public unions. My response was in regards to the second half. When he wrote why should I have to pay for others beyond what I receive it he is expressing a position of unfairness and his disproportionate burden. That sounds pretty self-interested to me.

          • Heb Ienek

            I’ll buy that.

          • No doubt. But the answer to your question is downstream (or upstream depending on how you sort Disqus) in which someone asks why public employees should get a benefit they don’t get int their job.

      • Jessica Rice

        In the private sector you’d maintain a rate of pay or be given a raise after leaving theb returning to a job to further your knowledge of the work.
        In public schools if we leave a district we often get bumped down in pay since many districts have longevity clauses that only allow raises if you have worked for the district for your entire career.

        For instance, since I got four years of experience out of state, teachers with four years less experience will catch up in pay to me since I’m at the top waiting for longevity. Leave of absences, therefore, become necessary for us to maintain a fair and honorable rate of pay for experience.

        The system is flawed, no doubt, but before we bash public employees look deeper at the contract to consider why a leave might be necessary.

        • John

          “In the private sector you’d maintain a rate of pay or be given a raise after leaving theb returning to a job to further your knowledge of the work. ”

          Not necessarily. In the private sector, you only get a raise if you get additional training, and then can show to your boss in a convincing way that the additional training makes you more valuable to them. This is most frequently accomplished by threatening to leave.

          There is no guarantee that you’ll ever get a raise in a private sector job. In the place I currently work, if the company has a bad year, pretty much nobody will get a raise.

          In a previous place I worked, after a particularly bad year, we all took pay cuts that in the end amounted to a 10% decrease – a loss of 401K match and a pay cut (resulting in my making less a year and a half after starting than they offered me on my first day of work).

          My wife works in the public sector, and I work in the private. She trades (willingly) some level of income for a less risky path of pay increases and job security. I make more, but am somewhat less safe in my job. It’s part of the tradeoff. (I still would never teach – it’s not something I particularly like doing).

      • king harvest

        As a taxpayer, I don’t pay for a leave of absence. The school board can say no.
        Edited to add:
        I don’t understand the rancor. Anybody in any job can ask for a leave of absence. It is in no way restricted to the public sector. I have asked for, and received, leave in the private sector. I see no special benefits being received. Why all the complaints?

    • Laurie K.

      I am sure she has, particularly the part of the contract that says that the school district is not required to grant the leave. I work in government and I agree with Ms. Nyberg, there are things allowed in my agency which would NEVER fly in the private sector.

      • >>there are things allowed in my agency which would NEVER fly in the private sector.<<

        Which is one way to get people to work public sector jobs…

        • Laurie K.

          And is why people leave government jobs to return to work in the private sector…

          • Also having to spend the majority of time with people’s kids.

          • John

            that’s 1/3 of the reason I will never teach.

  • Mike Worcester

    I tried to read in the article what some of the specifics might be, such as will they pay a portion of his salary (doubtful) or will they carry his health insurance (maybe). If there is no expense to the district the issue then is that they cannot guarantee that someone will fill the position during the leave time?

    Honest editorial comment — if the board is that bothered by instructors taking a leave, could they not have addressed that during the last round of negotiations? Or perhaps put it on the agenda for the next round?

    • BJ

      I think the issue is he teaches a specific course and if they fill it for 5 years with a great teacher they would have to fire that teacher if he comes back in 5 years.

  • Will

    Just another example of ridiculous public school perks.

    Next thing you know they’re going to want 3 months off a year too.

      • KariBemidji

        As my high school math teacher husbands says, there is fine university just up the road that you can get your teaching degree.

        • I’ve though about it, but then remember how much the starting salary would be, the extremely long hours a teacher typically puts in, and the shoddy way teachers are treated by administrations and realize that it’s not for me.

          /Worked over 8 years in a large, local school district (in the Administration building) and saw all of that first hand.

          • John

            also, dealing with kids all day. . . . that’s enough for me to stay out of the profession.

          • Look at the comments section on that post a few days ago about the two YOUNG teachers making their classrooms welcoming place for kids to get into the frame of mine to learn.

            All they got for their effort from the chattering class was second-guessing and criticism from people who don’t teach but think they know how teachers should.

            Why on earth would anyone want the job?

          • John

            yeah, parents (and armchair principals) are another 1/3 of why I won’t ever teach.

          • I thought I could do the Junior High thing…old enough to (hopefully) think, young enough to actually be semi-fun.

            Then again, I’d probably be an art or social studies teacher (and probably coach).

          • John

            Maybe. . . I feel like Jr. High is a special kind of awful, as hormones start to rage and critical thought starts to falter.

            Also – parents. . . Some of my friends from graduate school are teaching at a University level, and they are getting calls from parents to try to shore up their grades (kids call home and complain about low grades, but apparently leave out the fact that they’re not going to class or showing up for the tests).

            Parents. . . ugh.

          • Parents – I’ve dealt with them when I was a youth sports coach…and I agree with you…

            Guess I’ll never be a teacher…or a waiter for that matter. Dealing with the public sucks.

          • rallysocks

            Being a substitute in some areas can be a pretty good gig.

      • Will

        First statement is serious, second statement is tongue in cheek.

    • J-dawg

      It’s kind of funny when people complain about teacher benefits. They do know it’s almost impossible to get or keep decent teachers anymore because of how pitiful the salaries are, right?

      • Will

        I’ll join if I can get get credit for my private sector experience.

        • Credit in the form of a pay cut and more office politics than you can stomach…

          • Will

            It wouldn’t be a pay cut at all if you factor in pensions & summers off, teachers near me are making about $71k/year with 15 years experience, I’d jump into a high school right now and start teaching if I could get that salary, a pension and summers off and I’m an engineer.

          • >>I’m an engineer.<<

            What kind of train do you drive?

          • Will

            At the moment it’s a Emb175…

          • Heh, awesome. Where do you fly out of?

            /Know a few pilots and play hockey with a couple ATC teams.

          • Don’t forget to factor in the continuing ed classes you need to take every year to keep your license and the massive overtime during the school year.

          • Will

            Yeah I just spent 20+ hours each week working on side projects outside of work, app creation, making a Raspberry Pi function like a gaming system and now starting a business and starting a second Raspberry Pi function as a garage door interface I’m pretty sure I can handle get off work at 2 pm and doing a bit of work outside school.

          • >>I’m pretty sure I can handle get off work at 2 pm and doing a bit of work outside school.<<

            That's just it…it's ALL school related stuff into the evening for most teachers…

            /But yeah, if you can handle it, more power to you.

          • You wonder if anyone has ever actually TALKED to a teacher.

          • No kidding. I kind of know how much work is involved in that profession

            /Worked 8+ years teaching teachers in a large local school district
            //Niece is a teacher
            ///Co-worker’s wife is a substitute teacher (he tells me stories)

      • Sam M

        Do you have proof of how pitiful? I’ve seen a recent pay scale and I would bet many people would be shocked by the figures on it. Starting out they aren’t great and hanging on is tough but long gterm it provides a very nice living.

        • rallysocks

          Doesn’t this vary from district to district? I’m guessing there’s a reason that most of the teachers in our district work a part time job during the school year or take jobs in the summertime.

          • Sam M

            I’m sure it does but to make a blanket statement that it’s pitiful is a little misleading. My wife has been a teacher and has family in a few different districts and they all have similar pay scales.

            My wife has considered taking a summer job and other ways to make money as well. Her thought is she has the time so why not use it.

      • Heb Ienek

        SPPS consists of mostly senior teachers. That’s why they struggle with their budget every year. Keeping teachers per se, isn’t the problem. The problem is keeping and attracting new teachers when they must satisfy themselves with the scraps the step and lane system leaves them.

    • king harvest

      What perk? You too can ask for a leave of absence. Your employer can turn it down. Where is the special benefit?

      • jon

        Surprised how far it took scrolling down in the comments to find some one else saying that.

        I can ask my boss for a 5 year leave right now.
        I could ask him for a 3 year leave, or a 2, or 6 months, or 18 years.

        He is under no obligation to say yes.

        The reason you don’t see this in the private sector is because my boss is under no obligation to keep employing me after I ask… he could say, “sure take all the time you need, don’t worry about coming back, there is no job here for you any more.”

        So asking can be it’s own sort of danger… I know at least one person who took a 3 year leave from work, and his positions got removed while he was gone… (he later took up work as a consultant and after consulting with the company I work for he is now back as an employee…)

        Even if teachers didn’t have a union, they are in demand right now, especially if they are willing to work for the pay the schools can offer. He could still ask, and he probably wouldn’t be fired for asking, because the reason they are even thinking of saying no is because replacing him would be difficult.

        • You’ve identified the “special perk’

  • Tim

    Sabbaticals do happen in the private sector as well — they’re not common, they’re shorter, and they’re typically unpaid, but they exist.

    • Right, but the point that they’re shorter is basically the chairman’s point. Not that they don’t exist.

  • Elizabeth Zimmermann

    Someone else is hired in your place and hopefully there is an appropriate similar position when you come back – otherwise they make something up. Or they hire someone on a limited tenure contract. At least that’s how it works many places for military leaves, which would be similar, although not directed by law in this case.

    • Heb Ienek

      otherwise they make something up

      And there’s the rub, right there. I wonder how much of the ever expanding cost of public education is attributable to districts making stuff up to satisfy union contracts, irrespective of the impact on the students.

  • kennedy

    Its my understanding that many rural schools struggle to hire teachers. In addition to being remote, Hibbing likely has a limited education budge. It’s possible that an unpaid sabbatical is an incentive that costs little but is attractive to some. Also note that requesting a sabbatical does not necessarily mean it will be granted.

    • It would also be attractive, I would think, to replace a teacher making more money with one making less, in which everyone is happy with the arrangement.

  • Al X

    Isn’t it likely that a provision like this was added so that a teacher could take a leave to raise a child without worrying about whether you would have to move? In a rural area prospects for getting a similar job after taking a leave to raise children would be diminished and a policy like this would be attractive.

    Also, I don’t see that it’s in any way reasonable to compare the jobs of teachers to most private sector jobs. Particularly in small towns where teachers really become embedded into the fabric of the community. Most of us can’t imagine what it would be like having our livelihoods this intertwined with all of our neighbors.