Teachers’ Union Agrees to Reimburse District for Ghost Teacher Costs; Legislation Would Provide Permanent Solution
May 9, 2018, READING, Pa.—For years, the cost of union ghost teachers has haunted one of the nation’s poorest school districts, where taxpayers have funded union operations to the tune of over $500,000 since 2011. But after a nonprofit organization representing Reading taxpayers filed a lawsuit to end the practice, this costly backroom deal is finally coming to an end.
Since 2011, Reading School District has paid teachers to leave the classroom and work full-time for the local teachers’ union, the Reading Education Association (REA). These ghost teachers were paid taxpayer-funded salaries, given public pension credits, and accrued teaching seniority despite working solely for the union.
Last year, Americans for Fair Treatment, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the rights of public employees, filed a lawsuit in Berks County Court with the help of the Fairness Center to end this abusive practice. A separate complaint was filed with the Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) disputing state pension credits awarded to Reading’s ghost teachers.
After months of litigation, the REA has agreed in a memorandum of understanding with the District to start reimbursing the school district for ghost teacher costs previously borne by local taxpayers. Meanwhile, PSERS has revoked ghost teaching-related pension credit from at least one of the REA’s ghost teaching union officials.
Today, as a result of the REA’s promise to reimburse for future ghost teacher costs, Americans for Fair Treatment filed papers with the court to have its case discontinued. Despite the REA’s promise to start reimbursing certain ghost teaching costs, the union has refused to repay costs from prior years.
Americans for Fair Treatment issued the following statement: “We’re encouraged to see the Reading teachers’ union come to their senses, but the truth is, ghost teaching is a state problem that the General Assembly must address.”
Two bills pending in the General Assembly would address the ghost teaching arrangement so common across the Commonwealth: SB 494 and HB 164. SB 494, introduced by State Senator Pat Stefano, has already reached the Senate floor after approval by the Senate Education Committee.
“It shouldn’t take a lawsuit to stop taxpayer abuse like this,” commented David Osborne, president and general counsel for the Fairness Center. “Our public schools are paying teachers not to teach.”
In 2012, Reading School District was forced to lay off 110 teachers, along with hundreds of other employees, to save money. During this time, the terms of the REA contract forced the district to continue paying the salary and benefits of a ghost teacher who worked full-time for the union.
More than 20 percent of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts authorize full-time ghost teachers, according to a statewide survey of school district collective bargaining agreements. Ghost teacher practices in, among other school districts, Erie City School District and the School District of Lancaster were suspended after the Fairness Center’s clients brought attention to this issue via litigation in Philadelphia and Allentown.
A similar lawsuit over ghost teachers in Allentown School District remains before the Lehigh County Court.
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.
David Osborne is available for comment today. Please contact Conner Drigotas at 717- 409-6964 or Conner@fairnesscenter.org to schedule an interview.
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The Fairness Center is a nonprofit, public interest law firm offering free legal services to those hurt by public employee union officials. For more information visit www.fairnesscenter.org.