Ghost Teachers; Pennsylvania Republicans Are Reigniting a Push to Outlaw So-Called "Ghost Teachers" -- Educators Who Take Extended Absences to Work Full Time for Their Unions While Accruing Salaries, Seniority and Pension Credits on the Taxpayers' Dime. [Derived Headline]

By Lindstrom, Natasha; Martines, Jamie | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, April 23, 2017 | Go to article overview

Ghost Teachers; Pennsylvania Republicans Are Reigniting a Push to Outlaw So-Called "Ghost Teachers" -- Educators Who Take Extended Absences to Work Full Time for Their Unions While Accruing Salaries, Seniority and Pension Credits on the Taxpayers' Dime. [Derived Headline]


Lindstrom, Natasha, Martines, Jamie, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Pennsylvania Republicans are reigniting a push to outlaw so-called "ghost teachers" -- educators who take extended absences to work full time for their unions while accruing salaries, seniority and pension credits on the taxpayers' dime.

The state Senate is set to take up a bill that would prohibit school districts from allowing teachers to take time away from the classroom -- in some cases, for a year or more -- to work for local or statewide teachers unions and perform tasks such as handling personnel disputes, representing colleagues in hearings and coordinating professional development.

The biggest sticking point is whether unions fully reimburse retirement contributions -- particularly as districts lament mounting pension costs and the state grapples with a $50 billion unfunded pension liability.

Under Pennsylvania's retirement code, teachers may receive paid leave only if the union reimburses the district for the full cost, including salary, health benefits and retirement contributions.

Proponents identify the biggest problem areas to be large, urban districts such as Pittsburgh Public Schools, which authorizes full-time release for as many as seven teachers each year, and the School District of Philadelphia -- where 18 teachers on union leave reportedly cost the district more than $1.7 million a year.

Statewide, release time is authorized in as many as 111 -- or about 22 percent -- of Pennsylvania's 500 school districts, according to a report by the Commonwealth Foundation, a Harrisburg-based think tank.

In extreme cases, teachers have been on union leave for more than a decade.

Sen. Patrick Stefano, R-Connellsville, referred to the practice as "ghost teaching." The Fayette County lawmaker introduced Senate Bill 494 to end the practice.

"These ghost teachers receive taxpayer-funded salaries, health benefits and pensions, yet they may never return to the classroom or engage in actual teaching," Stefano said. "This should not be allowed or tolerated because it is a blatant misuse of taxpayer dollars and drains money and resources away from our classrooms and our students."

Another "ghost-teaching" bill cleared the House Education Committee last summer but never made it to a vote on the House floor. That bill was introduced by state Reps. Rick Saccone of Allegheny County, Jim Christiana of Beaver County and Kristin Hill of York County, all Republicans.

'Negotiated' deal

Union officials maintain that allowing teachers to take union leave saves districts money and time in the long run. And extended release time for union duties "doesn't exist very often, it's not widespread and it's negotiated," said Wythe Keever, spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state's largest teachers union.

"Full-time release doesn't exist anywhere in Pennsylvania where a local school board did not sign off on it," Keever said.

Specifically, SB 494 would ban Pennsylvania public school districts from entering into collective bargaining agreements permitting union leave for teachers that lasts more than three consecutive days or more than 30 days in a school year.

The bill cleared the Senate Education Committee this month, 5-4 on party lines, with Democrats opposing the measure.

"This is a good bill, a taxpayer-oriented bill," committee Chairman John Eichelberger, R-Blair County, told the Tribune-Review.

"These are people that are going to work for a private organization, and they're doing it on taxpayer time with taxpayer funding," he added. "They're supposed to reimburse the school for that activity, and from what we learned, they are not always reimbursed. And we're not sure if they're ever reimbursed for the full impact."

Gov. Tom Wolf opposes the proposed legislation, spokesman J.J. Abbott said. He did not say whether the governor would veto the bill, should it pass.

Critics slam the proposal as an exaggerated attack on teachers unions spearheaded by conservative lobbyists and groups such as the Commonwealth Foundation, whose platform includes weakening public-sector unions. …

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Ghost Teachers; Pennsylvania Republicans Are Reigniting a Push to Outlaw So-Called "Ghost Teachers" -- Educators Who Take Extended Absences to Work Full Time for Their Unions While Accruing Salaries, Seniority and Pension Credits on the Taxpayers' Dime. [Derived Headline]
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