Since 2011, Reading taxpayers have spent over $500,000 subsidizing the salaries of local teachers’ union officials. Finally, this unfair arrangement will end.
In a practice known as “ghost teaching,” Reading teachers leave the classroom to work full-time for the local teachers’ union—all while receiving publicly-funded salaries and pension credits and accruing seniority.
Last year, fed-up taxpayers, through the non-profit organization Americans for Fair Treatment (AFT) and represented by The Fairness Center, sued the district and Reading Education Association (REA) to stop this misuse of public school funds. In response, REA recently signed a memorandum of understanding to permanently reimburse the school district for future ghost teacher costs. Unfortunately, REA refuses to reimburse the half a million dollars it siphoned from the school district in the past.
This agreement follows a similar decision by the Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS). Responding to an AFT complaint, PSERS revoked some of the teacher pension credits illegally awarded to ghost teachers while they were absent from the classroom.
Reading, however, is not the only district with ghost teachers.
A survey of school district collective bargaining agreements reveals 23 percent of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts authorize full-time ghost teachers.
Though these schools do not all utilize this unique and costly union perk, they could do so at any time. As the chart below shows, schools districts in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Allentown are notable examples of districts utilizing the ghost teacher privilege.
Several districts have recognized the harm to taxpayers and school districts alike. Both Erie City and Lancaster suspended their ghost teacher practices. However, as The Fairness Center president David Osborne says:
The major point here is that while things have gotten better for the kids in Reading, this is a statewide problem and this is going to take a statewide solution.
Current legislation would ensure unions cannot pull teachers from any district out of the classroom on the taxpayers' dime.
- SB 494, introduced by Sen. Pat Stefano, prohibits teachers from working full-time for the union while on the district’s payroll. It passed the Senate Education Committee and is awaiting full Senate approval.
- HB 164, introduced by Reps. Rick Saccone, Kristin Hill, and Jim Christiana, ends ghost teaching with exceptions for three statewide officers whose absence must be reimbursed.
Ghost teaching places an undue burden on school districts and taxpayers. Reading School District laid off 110 teachers in 2012 while simultaneously sending thousands of dollars to the local union. That's why taxpayers across Pennsylvania should demand schools focus their resources on students and ensure teachers are paid to teach.