(1) For contributing members under contract or employed on July 19, 1996, and under such rules and regulations as the board shall adopt and promulgate, any member who was away from his or her position while on a leave of absence from such position authorized by the school board or board of education of the school district by which he or she was employed at the time of such leave of absence or pursuant to any contractual agreement entered into by such school district may receive credit for such time as he or she was on such leave of absence. Such credit shall increase the benefits provided by the retirement system and shall be included in creditable service when determining eligibility for death, disability, termination, and retirement benefits. The member who receives the credit shall earn benefits during the leave based on compensation at the level received immediately prior to the leave of absence. Such credit shall be allowed if such member has paid into the retirement system an amount equal to the sum of the deductions from his or her compensation and any contribution which the school district would have been required to make had he or she continued to receive compensation at the level received immediately prior to the leave of absence with such deposits plus interest which would have accrued on such deposits to be paid as the retirement board may direct within five years of his or her return to membership in the retirement system, or prior to termination of employment, whichever occurs first, and may be made through direct payment, installment payments, or an irrevocable payroll deduction authorization.
(2) Leave of absence shall be construed to include, but not be limited to, sabbaticals, maternity leave, exchange teaching programs, full-time leave as an elected official of a professional association or collective-bargaining unit, or leave of absence to pursue further education or study. A leave of absence granted pursuant to this section shall not exceed four years in length, and in order to receive credit for the leave of absence the member must return to employment with a school district, other than a Class V school district, in the state within one year after termination of the leave of absence and must apply for such credit within three years of the return to membership in the retirement system.