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Legislation Takes Aim At "Ghost Teachers," Union Fires Back

A pair of Republican state representatives want to force teachers’ union representatives to also hold positions that put them in contact with students every day. The move is an effort to end what they are calling “ghost teachers.”

State Representative Jim Christiana (R- Beaver) is upset that there are three individuals that are getting all of the benefits of being an active teacher in the Pittsburgh Public School district that report to the union office every day rather than to a school building.

“Union workers should be allowed to do union work and if you want to be an employee of the union then God bless you and we have a system in place that will allow you to do that,” Christiana said.  “But we are not going to allow you to be labeled as a teacher and not step foot in a classroom, and do union work exclusively.”

There are 20 teachers doing the same thing in Philadelphia. Christiana says it is unconscionable for those union representatives to wrack up years of seniority.

“I think it’s unfair to the teachers that are in the classrooms in these school districts, mind you some of the most challenged school districts in the country…  that are behind theses individuals in their seniority,” Christiana said.  “This kind of behavior is absolutely disrespectful to teachers and their students.”

“There really is no such thing as a ghost teacher,” responded Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers Union President Nina Esposito-Visgitis.  “It really is obvious that this is a marketing device, I think, from the right wing that don’t want teachers to have representation.”

That was how Esposito-Visgitis responded to this week’s announcement that Christiana and Representative Kristin Phillips-Hill (R- York) had introduced the bill. Esposito-Visgitis stresses that her pay and all of her benefits (and those of the other two full-time union representatives) are covered by union dues.  She contends her work has positive impacts on the students and the district.

“We work with the $40 million Gates Grant, we were key in working for that and then developing the plan,” said Esposito-Visgitis, “I personally just wrote a grant that brought in $300,000 to the district from the Federation of Teachers on career and technical ed, so that’s another position funded that we got.”

Esposito-Visgitis says it is possible that there are other larger issues at play in this legislative effort.

“I do not know either one [of the state representatives] but I’m sure they don’t like all of our positions because we do fight for public schools,” Esposito-Visgitis said. “I’m not a proponent of charter schools, I’m not a proponent of privatization, so absolutely I’m sure we disagreed on some things.”

Pittsburgh Public Schools declined to comment on the legislation and the Philadelphia Teachers Federation did not return calls for comment.  However the CEO of the conservative Commonwealth Foundation, Matthew Brouillette has come out in favor of the legislation.

“Imagine yourself as a good hard working teacher in Philadelphia or in Pittsburgh spending time in the classroom for fifteen years and finding out that another teacher who has not been there for 20 years or for decades has more seniority than you,” said Commonwealth Foundation CEO Matthew Brouillette.  “Now these same teachers are afraid to speak out for fear of backlash from their powerful unions,” (cut4)

Esposito-Visgitis, who spent 21 years as a speech therapist in the Pittsburgh Public Schools before spending the last 13 years as a union representative, counters that the most important seniority is time spent in a building rather than time spent with the district.  She says that only comes into play when there are furloughs.

Supporters of the legislation worry about the impact those years will eventually have on pension programs.

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