Bob Sprankle, a former Wells Elementary School technology teacher who suffered for years with chronic pain and fought for reforms to the state’s disability system, died Tuesday, family and friends confirmed.
“He was a very cherished teacher who made a difference in kids’ lives every day he was here,” said Marianne Horne, Wells Elementary principal. Horne said staff and students were notified of Sprankle’s death Wednesday.
Sprankle, 52, suffered from chronic lower abdominal pain stemming from a 2007 hernia surgery, he told the Press Herald in August, when his battle with the Maine public retirement system became public. He was in so much pain that he was largely confined to his home in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and had difficulty walking around the block.
Sprankle’s wife, Jody Breneman, declined to comment or publicly confirm the cause of her husband’s death.
Sprankle had been twice denied permanent disability, but was invited to re-apply after an Aug. 23 Maine Sunday Telegram story about both his dispute with the Maine Public Employees Retirement System and larger issues with the system itself. In October, the retirement system granted Sprankle disability, which would have paid 59 percent of his $71,000 salary until age 65.
The percentage of applicants approved for disability has dropped from 75 percent in 2009 to 30 percent in 2014, according to state records.
State Rep. Robert Foley, R-Wells, has submitted a bill inspired by Sprankle’s situation to help reduce the number of denials, and retirement system officials are also working on reforms.
To be approved for retirement disability, the only category currently available, public employees have to prove they are permanently disabled. Public employees contribute to the state disability programs through paycheck deductions.
Foley is also advocating that the state offer a separate disability benefit – long-term disability – to cover employees who may be unable to work for an extended period but might return when their health improves.
Foley said he was in “deep shock” over Sprankle’s death, but honored to have worked with him on the disability issue.
“He was well-known and well-loved,” Foley said. “The kids thought the world of him.”
Foley said Sprankle was grateful that he was being helped, but always considered how reforms could help others who had been denied disability.
Foley said he will continue working to reform the system in Sprankle’s honor.
“He was very adamant, even after he was awarded disability, that I continue the fight,” Foley said. “His suffering will not be in vain.”