Taxes Should Fund Students, Not Special Interests
June 2, 2017, Harrisburg, Pa.—Teachers should be paid to teach, not work for a private special- interest group. But since 2011, Reading School District—one of the most impoverished districts in the nation—has paid ghost teachers more than $500,000 to skip school and work full-time for the local teachers’ union.
Yesterday, Americans for Fair Treatment (“AFFT”), a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the rights of public employees, filed a lawsuit in Berks County Court with the help of the Fairness Center, seeking an end to ghost teaching in Reading School District and a return to the district of tax dollars illegally given to the Reading Education Association (“REA”).
“Our client believes Reading students are entitled to the best education the district’s resources can provide,” commented Karin Sweigart, Deputy General Counsel at the Fairness Center. “But in the last six years, more than half a million dollars have been siphoned away from the classroom to pay the president of the union to not teach students.
“Americans for Fair Treatment simply wants tax dollars to support students, not fund a private special- interest group.”
In 2012, Reading School District laid off 110 teachers along with hundreds of other employees, even as the district continued paying the salary and benefits of a ghost teacher who worked full-time for the union.
In the 2015-16 school year alone, REA President Mitch Hettinger received salary and benefits from the district worth $131,000. That’s nearly ten times the average annual per capita income of Reading residents. Yet, he was working full-time for the teachers’ union, not the district.
This lawsuit seeks the return of ghost teacher costs borne by the district since 2011, including over
$400,000 in ghost teacher salary costs, nearly $50,000 in pension contributions, and more than $73,000 in health benefits from 2011-16 alone.
“In addition to siphoning money from the district to pay their salaries, Reading’s ghost teachers have been illegally boosting their pensions while working for the union,” continued Sweigart. “That’s why, separate from this lawsuit, the Fairness Center has filed a formal complaint on behalf of a Public School Employees’ Retirement System (“PSERS”) member and AFFT, asking PSERS to revoke any unearned pension credits from Reading ghost teachers.”
Hettinger, who is scheduled to retire this year, isn’t the only teachers’ union official to abuse Pennsylvania’s overburdened public pension system. After the Fairness Center filed a lawsuit on behalf of former Allentown School Board member Scott Armstrong and Allentown taxpayer Steven Ramos, PSERS revoked pension credits accrued by Allentown Education Association Presidents while ghost teaching.
Armstrong, plaintiff in the Allentown lawsuit and member of AFT, offered the following reaction to Reading’s ghost teacher practice:
The fact that union ghost teachers are diverting money from classrooms and the students in Reading just like in Allentown is scandalous. Unions provide a vital service to their rank and file, but common sense dictates the obligation of paying union leadership falls on the union itself—they shouldn’t be placing that burden on the backs of Reading taxpayers and district students. This abuse of public dollars must be stopped wherever it’s taking place.
I hope this lawsuit helps return education funding to where it belongs— helping Reading students succeed.
More than 20% of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts authorize full-time ghost teachers, according to a statewide survey of school district collective bargaining agreements.
Americans for Fair Treatment is a nonprofit whose purpose is to equip and empower Americans to receive fair treatment from government union officials. Members of the organization include teachers, public employees who’ve opted out of union membership, taxpayers, and others who support the rights of public employees.
Staff attorneys are available for comment. Contact Conner Drigotas at 717.409.6964 or firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an interview.
The Fairness Center is a nonprofit, public interest law firm offering free legal services to those hurt by public-sector union officials. For more information visit www.FairnessCenter.org.