Support

Press Release 2.24.16

February 24, 2016

The Fairness Center
Contact: John Bouder, 570-490-1042, john@fairnesscenter.org
 

Allentown Teachers’ Union Bilks Taxpayers Out of $1 Million+
School District Pays Teacher’s Salary & Benefits to ‘Ghost Teacher’

February 24, 2016, HARRISBURG, Pa.—Teachers are paid to teach—at least that’s what parents and taxpayers probably think. But in Allentown, a public schoolteacher’s salary and benefits are also paid to a full-time union employee—a “ghost teacher” who hasn’t taught a class in years.

The cost to state and local taxpayers since 2000 is more than $1.3 million, according to documents obtained via Right to Know request. A full-time union employee has been on district payroll since 1990.

Allentown taxpayers Steven Ramos and Scott Armstrong believe their school taxes should support public education, not staff a private organization. Today, they filed suit in Commonwealth Court against the Allentown Education Association (AEA), the Allentown School District (ASD), and the Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) to end a contract provision letting the AEA president work for the union while drawing a publicly funded salary and benefits.

“It’s absurd that Allentown taxpayers are being forced to pay a union employee’s salary along with health and pension benefits,” said Allentown taxpayer Steven Ramos. “How many students could be educated with the more than $1 million the district has given to a private organization? This misuse of public money must end.”

Allentown School District, the third largest in the state, has consistently struggled financially. Since 2011, the district has laid off 272 teachers. Incredibly, during those layoffs, a classroom teacher lost a job so a ghost teacher could stay on the district’s payroll. In an insult to dedicated teachers, the union president accrues seniority over classroom teachers while skipping school to work for the union.

“When I learned this arrangement was simply business as usual for the district and the union, I was outraged,” commented Scott Armstrong, a former ASD schoolboard member. “Teachers should not be let go in favor of a union employee, and taxpayers should not be compensating someone who is working for union interests rather than the public interest. That’s just common sense.”

State taxpayers are also on the hook for Allentown ghost teacher benefits costs. Since at least 2009, the AEA president has been earning public employee pension credits even as she works full-time for a private organization. These illegitimate pension credits are a direct cost to state taxpayers and put at greater risk the integrity of a public retirement system already billions in debt.

“The union’s practice is both morally questionable and illegal,” remarked Karin Sweigart, assistant general counsel for the Fairness Center. “As soon as a teacher begins working full-time for a private organization like a union, he or she stops being a public employee. Therefore, that employee is no longer entitled to earn a public salary or additional benefits. The union is abusing taxpayers and the public education system to further its own goals.”

The lawsuit seeks to end the practice of union release time in the district and require AEA to reimburse the district and the Commonwealth for all costs associated with release time since 2000.

The Plaintiffs

Scott Armstrong served as a member of the Allentown School Board from 2011-2015. He is self-employed and lives in Allentown. Steven Ramos is an Allentown taxpayer and graduate of Allentown School District’s William Allen High School. Both Armstrong’s and Ramos’ children previously attended district schools.

Both Ramos and Armstrong object to the AEA’s practice of siphoning taxpayer dollars from the financially struggling district for union use.

Case documents

Karin Sweigart is available for comment today. Please contact John Bouder at 570-490-1042 or john@fairnesscenter.org to schedule an interview.

# # #

The Fairness Center is a nonprofit, public interest law firm offering free legal services to those facing unjust treatment from public employee union leaders. For more information visit www.FairnessCenter.org.