July 25 2012

Minnesota Reservist and Teacher Fights Whopping Bill from his School for his Time Away Defending his Country

Vicki E. Alger

Imagine doing a tour in tour in Afghanistan as a U.S. Air Force reservist, and greeting you when you got home was a bill for more than $11,000. Well, that’s the welcome Winona, Minnesota, elementary school teacher Matt Reuter received. As EAGnews reported:

Reuter’s employer, Winona Area Public Schools, greeted him with a bill for $11,300 – the cost of a substitute teacher to cover in his absence.

An obscure state law passed in 2004 allowed school districts to pass the expense of hiring a temporary teacher to educators who are deployed overseas as service members…

Laws in Minnesota and numerous other states obligate public employers to pay the difference between an employee’s regular salary and their military wages. But in Minnesota, public schools can deduct the cost of a substitute from the payout. …

Reuter, a single father of two young boys, set out to change the unfair practice, and began speaking with elected officials and colleagues to highlight the problem. “Nobody could believe that there was a law like that in place.” …

Eventually, with the help of fellow Goodview teacher Katy Smith – Minnesota’s 2011 Teacher of the Year – Reuter got the attention of Gov. Mark Dayton, who helped to quickly change the law.

Reuter, however, was still out $11,300.

Last month, Dayton pointed out Reuter’s situation at the National Education Association’s annual conference, where numerous teachers from across the country vowed to help raise money to cover the expense.

Today, he’s expected to receive a check for $13,000 at an event at Winona City Hall.

“I never went into this asking for the money back. I never did…I knew that changing the law was going to help other people.”

Kudos to the NEA members, Ms. Smith, Gov. Dayton, and the Minnesota policy makers who stood up to right a terrible wrong.

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