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Lawmakers Hope To Tackle ‘Ghost Teachers’

By The Pennsylvania Independent

HARRISBURG PA – Two Pennsylvania lawmakers want to exorcise public school districts of so-called “ghost teachers” who do union work on school time.

Reps. Kristin Phillips-Hill, a York County Republican, and Jim Christiana, also a Republican in Beaver County, say they will co-sponsor a bill this fall that would end the practice of allowing teachers to leave the classroom to work full-time for their union while still drawing a public salary.

“I think we need a legislative action,” Christiana said. “In my opinion, this is completely and utterly unfair to the taxpayer to be paying for full-time union employees.”

Through collective bargaining with some school districts under a practice known by the terms “release time,” “official time,” or “union leave,” the pair claims ghost teachers have been allowed to do union work while also accruing a public pension and school seniority.

According to a memo sent by the bill’s co-authors to all House members, teachers are needed in the classroom at a time when Pennsylvania school districts are struggling to retain and add new teachers.

“Further, a district has no knowledge of what these teachers are doing while on the public payroll,” according to the memo. While records show unions voluntarily reimburse districts for much of these teachers’ salary and benefits, they wrote, they are not obligated to do so.

Moreover, they added, the state is not entitled to nor has it received reimbursement for its share of teachers’ pensions. That has cost state taxpayers more than $1 million since 2000, the legislators said.

“Reimbursing their salary is completely irrelevant and a distraction to the ongoing issue,” Christiana said. “I don’t think taxpayers should be on the hook for anything. Not to mention, they have to fund the replacement teacher for that classroom.”

In addition to wages ghost teachers earn is seniority they accrue that opponents say harms other teachers. That’s the basis for a lawsuit filed against the Philadelphia school district and its teachers’ union earlier this year by Americans for Fair Treatment. It argues the practice is unfair to teachers who remain in the classroom to actually teach because of Pennsylvania’s “last in, first out” policy.

Teachers with more seniority are protected from being laid off, while less experienced teachers could lose their jobs, regardless of how effective they are, because of the policy. “It’s absolutely unfair to the rank and file teacher who is working in the classroom, who potentially could be laid off because they have less seniority than these ghost teachers,” Christiana said.

  • Pennsylvania Independent is a public interest journalism project dedicated to promoting open, transparent, and accountable state government. It reports on the activities of agencies, bureaucracies, and politicians in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

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