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Press Release 5.25.16

May 25, 2016

Contact: Gina Diorio, 862-703-6670, gina@fairnesscenter.org

PSERS: Allentown Ghost Teacher Illegally Receiving Pension Credit
State Retirement System Agrees Taxpayers Should Not Fund Union Employee’s Retirement

May 25, 2016, HARRISBURG, Pa.—An employee of a private organization should not receive a publicly funded salary and pension. This sounds like simple logic, but for years, residents of the cash-strapped Allentown School District have paid the salary and benefits of a “ghost teacher” who is hired by the district to teach but is instead working full-time for the local teachers’ union.

Now, the Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System has agreed taxpayers should not be on the hook for the pension of a teacher who doesn’t teach. Responding to the lawsuit filed by the Fairness Center in February on behalf of Allentown taxpayers Steven Ramos and Scott Armstrong, PSERS stated:

PSERS agrees that the AEA [Allentown Education Association] President is not entitled to receive retirement credit while on full release time under the facts presented in the pleadings.

PSERS added that retirement credits incorrectly awarded “must be removed.”

“We are pleased PSERS has agreed that the taxpayers of Allentown and Pennsylvania should not be forced to fund the retirement of a private employee,” commented Karin Sweigart, assistant general counsel of the Fairness Center. “For years, the current AEA president has received taxpayer-funded salary, benefits, and retirement credit as if she were a teacher. PSERS’ decision is the first step toward restoring to the people of Allentown and Pennsylvania the money illegally diverted to a private endeavor.”   

Since 2000, Allentown taxpayers have paid more than $1.3 million for the salary and benefits of the full-time union president. The Fairness Center lawsuit seeks to end the contract provision allowing the AEA president to work full-time for the union while receiving a publicly-funded salary and benefits. The suit also asks the court to require the AEA to reimburse the district and commonwealth for salary, benefit, and pension costs since 2000.

“Pennsylvania’s public retirement system already faces a $50 billion-plus unfunded liability,” Sweigart continued. “It’s outrageous that anyone would think it appropriate to put the system at even greater risk by siphoning public funds for private interest. We are encouraged that PSERS is taking steps to stop this illegal practice, and we look forward to continuing to fight in court to fully end the union's abuse of taxpayer trust.”

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 Gina Diorio at 862-703-6670 or gina@fairnesscenter.org schedule an interview.

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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.