The Pennsylvania General Assembly is considering a bill that would prevent public school districts from enacting policies that allow for “ghost teachers,” individuals who accrue seniority and receive monetary compensation and benefits, including retirement benefits, while performing union duties on employment leave.
House Bill 2125, sponsored by state Rep. Rick Saccone (R-Allegheny), would ban school districts from including union leave in teacher contracts. For teachers who already have such a clause in their contracts, the bill would limit how much time they can spend on union leave, as well as how many teachers are allowed to be on union leave at one time. HB 2125 would also require unions to reimburse school districts whenever teachers leave for union business during school hours.
The House Education Committee passed HB 2125 in June, and the legislation is now pending before the Pennsylvania House Rules Committee.
Saccone says ghost teachers have been a problem in Pennsylvania for a long time and he had never heard of the practice until he read news reports about it happening in Allentown and Philadelphia.
“I knew right away we had to stop it,” Saccone said.
Wasting Tax Dollars
The Pennsylvania Public School Code does not restrict union leave, which costs taxpayers millions of dollars and impacts around 500 school districts across the state, Saccone says.
“The unions are strong and negotiate a lot of stuff like this into their contracts over the years,” Saccone said. “I read about one teacher who had 30 years [of] seniority, and he’d never set foot in a classroom, so that means if a layoff occurred, he would be retained while a good, experienced teacher with fewer years might be let go. By the way, that ghost teacher has also been accruing his pension and other benefits during this time.
“It is an abhorrent practice,” said Saccone. “And yet, the unions defend it, and all the Democrats will vote it out of committee along party lines.”
‘Paid to Teach’
James Paul, a senior policy analyst at The Commonwealth Foundation, says ghost teachers are paid to do something other than what they were hired to do.
“Teachers are paid to teach, but many contracts allow them to do something else like union work, and Pennsylvania taxpayers are getting stuck with the bill,” Paul said.
Whether a district allows ghost teachers depends on its collective bargaining agreement, but the practice has been going for decades, Paul says. Allentown, for instance, has spent $1.3 million on ghost teachers since 2000.
“It’s hard to project how many millions of dollars taxpayers are spending to subsidize union work,” Paul said. “But if unions want workers, they should hire them and pay for them themselves.”
Saccone says teachers unions stand in the way of education reform being passed.
“The public-sector unions control a large enough section of the legislature that they can block bills like these and keep them from ever coming to the floor for a vote,” Saccone said. “I don’t think we’ll have much luck with it this session, but we’ll continue to keep pushing it because the taxpayers are behind it 100 percent.”
Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.