Major Win for Taxpayers in Allentown Ghost Teaching Fight

The free ride is over for one local teachers' union. This week, The Morning Call reported on a major change to ghost teaching in the Allentown School District. The new arrangement, detailed in a memorandum of understanding, requires the Allentown teachers' union to reimburse the school district for union president Deborah Tretter's salary and benefits:

Starting with the 2016-17 school year, the union will pay Tretter's $84,507 salary, plus her health insurance and retirement benefits. This will be the practice in future years, Superintendent Thomas Parker said.

Why is it news that a union is paying its own employee?

Incredibly, Allentown taxpayers have foot the bill for the union president’s compensation for more than 25 years. It has been standard practice for a teacher to leave the classroom to work full-time for the union while staying on school district payroll—earning a teacher's salary, benefits, and gaining seniority over classroom teachers. The practice cost Allentown more than $1 million since 2003 alone.

This abuse of power prompted a lawsuit brought by local taxpayers Steven Ramos and Scott Armstrong with the help of the Fairness Center—a nonprofit public interest law firm that offers legal services to those hurt by government union officials.

Thanks to the work of the Fairness Center and courage of its clients, Allentown taxpayers will no longer pay for an unfair political perk, which serves no purpose other than to pad the bottom-line of government unions.

This is a big win for taxpayers, but it does not put an end to the lawsuit. Ramos and Armstrong want the Allentown teachers' union to fully reimburse the school district for all costs—past and present—incurred by ghost teaching. That would send more than $1 million back to Allentown schools.

But even full reimbursement isn’t sufficient. Karin Sweigart, deputy counsel for the Fairness Center, explained why in The Morning Call report:

While this is a major victory, the practice of ghost teaching, even if reimbursed, still violates the constitutional prohibition against providing public resources to a private organization without a public purpose,” Sweigart said. “Teachers should be paid to teach, and unions should be paying the salary and benefits of their own employees directly just like every other private organization.

Plainly, government unions should pay their employees directly, without taxpayers' help.

Unfortunately, the practice of ghost teaching isn’t confined to Allentown. Twenty-two percent of Pennsylvania’s school districts authorize the practice in their teacher contracts. Diverting teachers and tax dollars away from the classroom for the benefit of a private, political organization is unacceptable and should be prohibited.

Legislation to do so has already been introduced in the House (HB 164) and the Senate (SB 494). The Senate legislation would impose a complete ban on public employees working full time for their teachers' union while remaining on the school district’s payroll. The House bill would impose strict limits on the practice.

Both bills represent an improvement over the status quo and begin to chip away at the numerous political privileges enjoyed by Pennsylvania’s government unions at students' and taxpayers' expense.