Union Must Repay Allentown Ghost Teacher Costs, Per Agreement
Lawsuit Forces Money-Saving Change in School District’s Union Leave Policy

August 30, 2017, HARRISBURG, Pa.—A local teachers’ union must repay future salary and benefits costs for its ghost teacher, according to a new memorandum of understanding between the Allentown Education Association (AEA) and the Allentown School District. For more than 25 years, the union has pulled a teacher from the classroom to work full-time as its president, forcing local taxpayers to pay this ghost teacher’s salary and benefits. Since 2000, taxpayers have been on the hook for more than $1.3 million.

lawsuit filed last year by the Fairness Center on behalf of Allentown taxpayers Scott Armstrong and Steven Ramos brought ghost teachers to public attention in the region.

“While this is a significant step in the right direction, it is not enough for the union to simply reimburse taxpayers for future ghost teacher costs,” commented Armstrong, a former Allentown school board member. “The union must make taxpayers whole after siphoning money from the classroom for decades. Moreover, only those who are working for taxpayers’ interests—not those working for union interests—should be on school district payroll. Unions can hire their own employees. It’s as simple as that.”

Last year, the Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) revoked pension credits for the current AEA president and her predecessor for time spent working for the union, concluding more than $1 million in compensation for these ghost teachers did not qualify for retirement credit.

“Our clients are pleased that this lawsuit forced the union to reimburse taxpayers for its ghost teacher going forward, but the fight is not over,” commented Karin Sweigart, deputy general counsel for the Fairness Center. “This new agreement does nothing to compensate Allentown taxpayers and students for more than $1 million meant for education that has instead paid union presidents’ salaries. Our clients are asking the court to return every dollar inappropriately provided to the union to the classroom where it belongs.

“Moreover, the practice of ghost teaching, even if reimbursed, still violates the constitutional prohibition against providing public resources to a private organization without a public purpose. Our clients are petitioning the court to end ghost teaching completely.”

The Allentown lawsuit was filed in Commonwealth Court and now awaits consideration in Lehigh County Court.

Ghost teaching not isolated to Allentown

On behalf of its client Americans for Fair Treatment, the Fairness Center recently filed a lawsuit in Berks County Court, alleging union ghost teachers have cost Reading School District taxpayers more than $500,000 since 2011.

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.

More than 20 percent of Pennsylvania’s school districts authorize ghost teachers in their teacher contracts, according to a survey of collective bargaining agreements conducted by the Commonwealth Foundation.

Case documents

Contact Conner Drigotas, 844.293.1001, cddrigotas@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 facing unjust treatment from public employee union officials. For more information, visit www.FairnessCenter.org.