Willmar School Board approves extended leave for teacher
WILLMAR -- A Willmar teacher will be able to take a two-year leave of absence to teach overseas if the district is able to find a suitable substitute for her.
The School Board voted on Monday to grant a leave for Barb Leritz, a teacher in the English Language Learner program at Roosevelt Elementary.
But the leave will be granted only if a long-term substitute teacher can be found and if Leritz notifies the district of her intentions by June 2011.
The board also heard a short report on this year's enrollment figures.
The current enrollment is 4,044 students, which is 90 to 100 students less than a year ago. But it is higher than the enrollment at the end of the last school year.
Business and Finance Director Pam Harrington said the district's enrollment numbers have been flat for the past few weeks. The district typically sees its highest enrollment when school opens each fall. The number of students fluctuates during the school year, but the general trend is downward throughout most school years.
The board approved the leave for Leritz on a 7-to-1 vote, with board member Wayne Lenzmeier voting against it. The leave required board action because the district's teacher contract does not specifically allow it.
Leritz sought the two-year leave for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years. She and her husband, also a teacher, hope to be able to gain international experience and then return to the area.
In a letter to the board, she wrote, "I look forward to learning new teaching strategies and sharing my professional growth upon my return to Willmar Public Schools." She said the experience of living in another culture will give her experiences she can use in her ELL classroom in Willmar.
Several board members said the board has approved similar leaves in the past. "I think it's a good opportunity," said board member Sandi Unger. "I hope you can go."
Lenzmeier said he felt the board was starting on "a slippery slope" by approving leaves that aren't spelled out in the teachers' contract.
Board member Mike Carlson joined Lenzmeier in expressing concern about the potential impact on the district.
Carlson pointed out, twice, that such a leave of absence is an opportunity that people in other professions are not allowed. He's seen such arrangements work well, but the district has been "burned," too.
"It is a good experience," Carlson added, and there's no reason to believe that Leritz doesn't plan to return to Willmar to stay.
The last time the board approved such a leave, both teachers were from Willmar and promised to return to teach in the district. They did, but for just one year before they resigned.
The purpose of the leave would be to allow Leritz to have the international experience and return "so she could enrich our system for years to come," said Human Resources Director Bill Busta. However, there's no way to guarantee that.
Leritz said they should know by next spring whether they will be getting contracts from an overseas school. They do plan to return and live in the area, she said. Their daughter has two years to go before she starts kindergarten, and they plan to return so that she can start school here.
Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard recommended that the board make the leave contingent on finding a replacement. "ELL teachers are fully licensed, and they're difficult to find," he said.
Kjergaard also reported on a meeting of superintendents and school board members from the area. Representatives of 18 school districts, two education cooperatives and Ridgewater College met Sept. 30 in Maynard to discuss ways they could work together to deal with shrinking state funding.
Lenzmeier also attended the meeting. "I thought it was a real beneficial thing," he said. "We were able to do a little brainstorming."
The superintendents have met for several months, and they recently received a grant to hire a facilitator to lead the meetings.
The end product of all the talks is not clear yet, Kjergaard said. The next meeting is scheduled Dec. 2 at Ridgewater College. Before that, he said, he will be asking staff members, students and community members for their views on "where people think we ought to be in 20 years."