FILE - Downtown Reading

Downtown Reading

Taxpayers in Reading will no longer be forced to pay for the activities of a local public employee union.

The Reading Education Association has agreed to reimburse the local school district for the costs of "ghost" teachers who worked full time for the union and not in the classroom.

"Since 2011, Reading School District has paid teachers to leave the classroom and work full-time for the local teachers’ union, the Reading Education Association," Americans for Fair Treatment, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the rights of public employees, said in a news release. "These ghost teachers were paid taxpayer-funded salaries, given public pension credits, and accrued teaching seniority despite working solely for the union."

Americans for Fair Treatment (AFT) in partnership with The Fairness Center filed a lawsuit last year in Berks County Court in an effort to end the practice, which the group estimates has cost Reading taxpayers more than $500,000. A separate complaint was filed with the Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) disputing state pension credits awarded to Reading’s ghost teachers, according to AFT.

“We’re encouraged to see the Reading teachers’ union come to their senses, but the truth is, ghost teaching is a state problem that the General Assembly must address,” AFT said in a statement.

Two pieces of legislation, one in the House and one in the Senate, would end the practice of ghost teaching in Pennsylvania, AFT said.

“It shouldn’t take a lawsuit to stop taxpayer abuse like this,” David Osborne, president and general counsel for the Fairness Center, said in a statement. “Our public schools are paying teachers not to teach.”

The Reading School District laid off 110 teachers in 2012 to save money while it continued to pay the salary and benefits of a ghost teacher who worked full time for the union, AFT said.

"More than 20 percent of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts authorize full-time ghost teachers, according to a statewide survey of school district collective bargaining agreements," AFT's news release said. "Ghost teacher practices in, among other school districts, Erie City School District and the School District of Lancaster were suspended after the Fairness Center’s clients brought attention to this issue via litigation in Philadelphia and Allentown."

A similar lawsuit is pending in Lehigh County Court over ghost teaching in the Allentown School District.