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Philly ‘ghost teachers’ making $1.5 million this year

By   /   April 19, 2016  /   No Comments

Part 25 of 28 in the series Pennsylvania's Ghost Teachers

Sixteen Philadelphia public school teachers are earning $1.5 million during the current school year not to teach.

School District of Philadelphia

TEACHER BENEFITS: The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers pulled 16 teachers out of the classroom this school year to work full-time for the union.

As part of the contract with the School District of Philadelphia, the local teachers union is permitted to take up to 63 teachers out of the classroom to work full-time for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. The practice, known as “release time” or “official time,” allows public school teachers to leave the classroom and continue to earn a public salary, benefits, pension and seniority.

These so-called ghost teachers perform a variety of jobs for the PFT, serving as either information officers for other teachers or carrying out the union’s political agenda.

“Teachers should be paid to teach,” attorney Kara Sweigart, who is arguing ghost teacher lawsuits for the Fairness Center, a free legal service for employees who feel they’ve been wronged by their unions, told Watchdog.

“At a time when school districts are hurting financially, districts should be devoting every tax dollar to support students,” she said, “not to pay the salaries of employees of a private political organization.”

According to public salary data available through Philadelphia city agencies, the school district is paying 16 ghost teachers $1.5 million this year. All of them are making at least $81,000.

PFT Vice President Arlene Kempin, who has been on release time since 1983, is among the highest paid at $108,062. Union head Jerry Jordan, who has also been on release time for more than 30 years, is earning $81,245, according to district payroll logs. The 16 ghost teachers on the books this year are making an average salary of almost $98,000.

Last year, a Watchdog investigation found 18 Philly ghost teachers making more than $1.7 million.

As it struggles to fill full-time and substitute teaching vacancies across the city, Philadelphia is attempting to hire some 800 new teachers by autumn. During the 2015-16 school year, there were a reported 139 full-time teaching vacancies, as well as a sub fill rate around 40 percent. Last year, the district contracted Souce4Teachers, a private firm, to improve on low substitute fill rates, but the company has yet to come through on its end of the deal.

Last year, the Fairness Center filed a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court seeking to stop the PFT from pulling teachers out of the classroom to do union work on school time. A judge initially ruled Fairness Center lawyers lacked sufficient facts to support the case. The suit is now in the appeals process and Sweigart said the Fairness Center has oral argument scheduled before the Commonwealth Court on the Philadelphia ghost teacher case in October.

A second lawsuit involving ghost teachers in Allentown is in its initial pleadings.

While the PFT says it reimburses the School District of Philadelphia for its ghost teachers, it has yet to provide documentation to support that claim, despite repeated requests from Watchdog. The Allentown Education Association is not obligated to pay the local district anything for financing the salary and benefits of its president.

Since 1999, the cash-strapped Allentown School District has taken more than $1.4 million in public funds to pay local union leadership.

From 1999 to 2000, Darryl Skrovanek made $134,118 in salary and pension benefits as union president. From 2001 to 2009, Melvin Riddick’s salary and benefits total was $537,915, and Tretter will have taken $767,066 by the end of the school year.

Facing a $10.4 million budget deficit, the Allentown School District has been forced lay off more than 466 employees, including 272 teachers, since 2011. Layoffs are expected to continue for the next two or three years, according to published reports.

Late last year, based on Watchdog reporting, a House bill was introduced in Harrisburg to block unions from pulling Philly teachers out of the classroom to do union work on public time. The bill was referred to the House Education Committee.

Earlier this year, a second bill was introduced in the state Senate that seeks to terminate the practice of ghost teachers across the state. That bill is currently with the Senate Education Committee.

Legislation to ban ghost teachers has also been introduced in Maine, Michigan, Nevada and Washington, according to the Goldwater Institute. In addition to Pennsylvania, lawsuits challenging ghost public employees have been filed in Idaho and Michigan.

Part of 28 in the series Pennsylvania's Ghost Teachers
  1. Philly ghost teachers made more than $1.7M last year
  2. Week in Review: Plenty of scary news for Pennsylvania taxpayers
  3. PA Week in Review: Beer battles continue dispute veto of liquor bill
  4. Week in Review: Kane target of more investigations
  5. Pennsylvania labor union leaders blast 401(k) plans they offer their own staff
  6. Pennsylvania labor union leaders blast 401(k) plans they offer their own staff
  7. Education week-in-review: Ghosts and quotas
  8. Lawsuit aims to bust Philadelphia ‘ghost teachers’
  9. Lawsuit aims to bust Philadelphia ‘ghost teachers’
  10. Fairness group files lawsuit over ‘ghost teachers’
  11. Philly ghost teachers made more than $1.7M last year
  12. Education week-in-review: Ghost teachers and the ghost of Jim Crow
  13. Judge grants ‘ghost teachers’ freedom to roam
  14. How lawyers plan to bust Philadelphia’s ‘ghost teachers’
  15. How lawyers plan to bust Philadelphia’s ‘ghost teachers’
  16. Pennsylvania lawmakers plan to take on ‘ghost teachers’
  17. Lawmakers plan to take on ‘ghost teachers’
  18. Pennsylvania lawmakers introduce a bill to bust ‘ghost teachers’
  19. Pennsylvania lawmakers introduce a bill to bust ‘ghost teachers’
  20. Taxpayers subsidize union politics of ‘ghost teachers’
  21. Lawsuit takes aim at Allentown ‘ghost teachers’
  22. Senate bill aims to bust ‘ghost teachers’
  23. Allentown schools cry poverty, pay ‘ghost teachers’
  24. Study: Absent Philly teachers cost district millions
  25. Philly ‘ghost teachers’ making $1.5 million this year
  26. Pension agency: Ghost teachers ‘must be removed’
  27. New bill to bust ‘ghost teachers’ advances
  28. Pennsylvania pension agency docks ‘ghost teachers’ credit

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Evan was formerly a Pennsylvania-based education reporter for Watchdog.org.