Caught off guard at the sudden opportunity but rising to the occasion, the future seemed bright for this special education teacher in the Augusta County public school system located in the central Shenandoah Valley. He handily won his election with 71% of the vote during the history-making 2009 election that saw Republican candidates sweep the top three spots of governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general.
Getting time off from school to attend the 2010 General Assembly in January and February became somewhat of an issue with the school system but was eventually resolved when he was granted unpaid leave. Part of the agreement, Bell thought, was the additional days necessary for all legislators who have committee meetings scheduled throughout the year in Richmond.
Bell is hardly unique in holding a teaching job while serving as a representative. The Virginia General Assembly includes a college professor, an education administrator, four currently-employed teachers, and two retired educators. Former Rockingham Sen. Kevin Miller taught at James Madison University while representing that area of the Shenandoah Valley.
Now comes news that Del. Bell has announced his retirement from the Augusta County public school system because he was not able to obtain the days off beyond session, days needed to continue his work in the General Assembly.
Harrisonburg's WHSV TV-3 reported:
[Bell] had an agreement that he would take unpaid days off while the General Assembly was in session. He also took another seven unpaid days off this year, after the session ended, to do other legislative matters. Bell says that was part of the agreement but now the school board says he cannot take those extra days next year.According to reporter Bob Stuart at the Waynesboro News Virginian, school board chairman John Ochletree expressed the school system's concern in a written response to Del. Bell:
“We are pleased to accommodate you and support you as a citizen legislator in the Virginia General Assembly. We trust, however, that you recognize that your extended absence from your teaching duties creates hardship for the school division and that the board must strike a reasonable balance between meeting the instructional needs of our students and accommodating your service in the legislature.”After trying to resolve the issue for the past two months, Del. Bell has now handed in his letter of resignation to the school superintendent and will no longer teach special education in the Augusta County schools.
Cross-posted at The Washington Examiner