Erie Suspends Costly Ghost Teaching

Someone in Erie must have called the ghostbusters. Last August, the Erie School District and the Erie Education Association signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) ending ghost teaching in the district.

This provision, called release time, allowed a teacher to work as the local union president full-time while earning a school district salary – accruing seniority, salary increases, and pension credits as if a teacher. All told, this cost taxpayers more than $780,000 from 2010-2016.

The ghost teacher suspension is a promising development that ensures education dollars reach students and teachers remain in the classroom. But problems remain. The MOU explicitly states that release time “will become effective again following discussion between the parties.” This possibility of re-activation should worry Erie taxpayers.

More than 20 percent of Pennsylvania school districts continue to authorize this outrageous practice in their contracts – costing taxpayers millions of dollars. For instance, residents paid Allentown School District ghost teachers more than $1.3 million, while Philadelphia ghost teachers have received more than $1 million in pension payments from the already overburdened pension system.  

Government union leaders have benefitted from this abuse of taxpayer resources for years, largely due to their unique network of special privileges.  

Most Pennsylvania public school teachers are forced to join a union they never voted to represent them, or else pay a “fair share fee.” Union leaders can then use this steady stream of membership dues to advocate and negotiate for policies like ghost teaching.

Adding insult to injury, taxpayers collect this money, including union political funds used to campaign for politicians and political positions that many teachers oppose. Government unions are the only organizations in Pennsylvania that can use public resources for their own political purposes.

The Erie ghost teacher suspension is reason to celebrate, yet much work remains to cause permanent reform. Both HB 164 and SB 494 would prohibit full-time ghost teaching in Pennsylvania, with few exceptions, while Paycheck Protection would protect teachers and taxpayers from funding union political activities. Enacting these changes will save taxpayers millions of dollars and give teachers the freedom they deserve.