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Policy in MN schools allows five years of extened leave

Published 9:54am Friday, November 12, 2010

A longtime Fergus Falls teacher recently resigned from his position after he pleaded guilty in October to multiple felonies in Carver County District Court for allegedly embezzling funds from the Chaska School District.

Phil Link, who also coached the Otter football and baseball teams, left the Fergus Falls School District in 2005. In 2008, the district granted Link a five-year leave of absence — a practice not uncommon in Minnesota school districts.

According to a Minnesota statute, any full- or part-time teacher who has been employed by the district for at least five years and has at least 10 years of allowable service can take an extended leave of absence without salary for any reason if the School Board approves the leave, Superintendent Jerry Ness said.

When a teacher is on leave, the district hires another teacher to fill the position, but informs that person that it may be a temporary position if the teacher on leave decides to return at the beginning of a school year.

The duration of the leave can be between three and five years, and a teacher must inform the school district each year by Feb. 1 if he or she is returning the following school year, providing the district time to either fill the position or inform the interim teacher.

“It offers an opportunity if they want to try something different, they can go do that,” Ness said. “It gives them an opportunity to go and do that with a safety net, if you will.”

However, there is a clause in the statute that states a district does not have to re-hire a teacher if that teacher was on leave to work for another school district.

That was the case for Link, who, during his leave of absence from Fergus Falls, joined the North Branch School District as a teacher and football coach but lost his job in spring 2009 due to budget cuts. He was then hired by Chaska as an administrative dean and head football coach after losing his job in North Branch, but resigned his position at Chaska after allegations surfaced that he was taking money from sports programs at the school.

In Fergus Falls, the school district almost always has a few people on leave, Ness said, adding that a typical reason for taking a leave of absence is to raise a family.

Other times, a teacher may want to try another type of career and will choose to enter a leave of absence to have something to fall back on.

“(The policy) has its purpose and if done correctly can benefit both the district and that employee,” Ness said.

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