Across Pennsylvania, school districts are struggling to keep pace with the rising cost of education driven by unsustainble penion expenses. Yet, a special perk built into over 20 percent of district contracts allows “ghost teachers” to leave the classroom to work for a union full-time. And in one of Pennsylvania’s most impoverished school districts, taxpayers pay the bill.
Since 2011, the Reading School District has paid ghost teachers more than $500,000 to work full-time for the local teachers’ union, the Reading Education Association (REA).
That’s why last week, the Fairness Center filed a lawsuit on behalf of Americans for Fair Treatment (AFT), a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the rights of public employees, that would end ghost teaching in the Reading School District and require the union to return taxpayer money back to the district.
Karin Sweigart, deputy general counsel for the Fairness Center, commented:
“In the last six years, more than half a million dollars have been siphoned away from the classroom to pay the president of the union to not teach students. Americans for Fair Treatment simply wants tax dollars to support students, not fund a private special-interest group.”
In addition to the salary and health benefit costs imposed upon the district, ghost teachers have also been illegally boosting their pensions while working for the union. To address the pension issue, the Fairness Center also filed a formal complaint asking PSERS to revoke any pension credits Reading ghost teachers amassed while working for the union.
This abuse of the pension system has already been rectified in Allentown. After the Fairness Center filed a lawsuit on behalf of former Allentown School Board member Scott Armstrong and Allentown taxpayer Steven Ramos, PSERS revoked ghost teachers’ pension credits.
Reading and Allentown aren’t the only districts bearing the cost of ghost teachers. The KDKA news report below highlights three Pittsburgh teachers working full time for the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers.
While the Fairness Center's lawsuits seek to restore taxpayer funds back to the district, Pennsylvania legislators have been looking to end this misuse of school district resources. Rep. Rick Saccone sponsored HB 164, which prohibits teachers from engaging in union activity for more than 15 days and requires reimbursement for ghost teachers serving as statewide union officials. A similar bill, SB 494 sponsored by Sen. Patrick Stefano, passed the Senate Education Committee in March.
We can all agree that teachers should be teaching, not being paid by taxpayers to staff a private organization. As Philadelphia's newest School Reform Commission member Estelle Richman said, it's time to get ghost teachers back in the classroom or get them out of the system.