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April 22, 2015

Philly's ghost teachers made more than $1.7 million in 2014

Education Ghost Teachers
School District of Philadelphia headquarters Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

The School District of Philadelphia headquarters on North Broad Street.

Philadelphia's "ghost teachers" derive their name from collecting a public salary from the School District of Philadelphia while working for the local teachers union. They aren't actively teaching in classrooms.

While similar practices take place in other Pennsylvania and U.S. cities, and they aren't exclusive to teachers unions, Philadelphia's ghost teacher system is flagrantly unchecked, according to a report from, 

As many as 63 Philadelphia public school teachers are eligible to leave the classroom and work for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, where many of them work as information officers collecting hefty public salaries with health benefits, accrued seniority, and a pension. Such release time is a provision in the the teachers' contract with the school district. 

At least 18 public school teachers collected upwards of $1.7 million in 2014, based on documents obtained by Watchdog. Ghost teachers in Pittsburgh, the closest Pennsylvania city behind Philadelphia, made approximately $1.02 million. 

But the key difference between the two cities is that Pittsburgh's teacher's contract requires reimbursement, whereas Philadelphia's does not, said a spokesperson for The Fairness Center, a free legal service representing employees against unions. Earlier this year, the organization filed a lawsuit on behalf of Americans for Fair Treatment

“No other school district in Pennsylvania comes close to Philadelphia in size, scope and lack of oversight,” Fairness Center Assistant General Counsel Nate Bohlander said in an email to Watchdog.
As an example of the system's budgetary impact, PFT Vice President Arlene Kempin, who has been on release since 1983, made $108,000 last year while working from the PFT's rent-free office at district headquarters.  Kemping, who handled PFT human resources requests, is one of the 8 highest paid "ghost teachers" in the city. 

Further complicating matters is the district's "last in, first out" policy that protects teachers with seniority from layoffs. Ghost teachers can still accrue time even while not teaching, which leaves younger educators vulnerable to personnel cuts even though they are working in classrooms. 

The Fairness Center estimates that PFT ghost teachers have earned a total of $36 million in public salary since 2003, and while PFT spokesman George Jackson claims the district has been reimbursed over the years, the School District of Philadelphia declined to provide any confirmation of facts during the ongoing legal matter.

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