WILKES-BARRE — Wilkes-Barre Area School District teacher union president Jeff Ney may be going on paid leave to serve in a union post, but it ultimately will be at no cost to the district.
Assistant Communications Director Wythe Keever said the Pennsylvania State Education Association will reimburse the district for both Ney’s pay and the district contribution toward his pension. Ney was granted leave to serve as treasurer for PSEA through May 12, 2018. The leave can be extended to Aug. 30, 2019.
“We have reimbursed districts for many years for leave involving service as PSEA president, vice president and treasurer,” Keever said. PSEA is the state-level organization for the Wilkes-Barre Area Education Association. Both are part of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teacher union.
Paid leave for teachers doing union work has become a hot topic in some circles in recent years. Critics call it “ghost teaching,” contending a teacher should not get paid, or accumulate time toward a pension, when taking off to do union work.
Two similar bills have been introduced in both the state House and Senate to curb the practice, usually referred to as “full-time release.” Both bills would still permit school employees up to 30 days — but no more than three consecutive days — of full-time release each year to attend union business. A second House bill would impose tighter restrictions.
Keever said PSEA is “opposed to the bills as written,” primarily because they take control of the issue away from the local school boards.
“Wherever full-time release for local officers currently exists in the Commonwealth, it’s because a school district agreed to it,” he said. Such terms are not automatic, and must be negotiated into a teacher contract ratified by both sides, and a relatively small minority of districts have such deals.
A report by the Commonwealth Foundation — which supports laws curbing the practice — found that 109 of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts (22 percent) have contracts that “authorize ghost teachers in their teacher contracts.”
The report also found district contracts statewide “authorize at least 196 employees to cut class to work for teacher unions.” But more than half of those were in two counties: Philadelphia, with the state’s largest school district, and Allegheny, home of Pittsburgh School District. Philadelphia School District had 63 of the 196 cases, or 32 percent.
The report listed only two cases in Luzerne County, one in Pittston Area, where teachers are part of the smaller American Federation of Teachers union (the same parent union for Philadelphia and Pittsburgh teachers), and one in Wyoming Valley West.