PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — We think of teachers as instructors with chalk in hand in front of a classroom of kids, but at the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, there are three teachers who work full-time for the union, including union president Nina Esposito-Visgitis.
“We are considered a teacher on special assignment. That’s what we’re called. I consider us to be a big help to the district and our students,” Esposito-Visgitis
But others disagree and there’s a move to outlaw the practice by Pennsylvania Rep. Rick Saccone. He calls them “ghost teachers.”
“A ghost teacher is someone who was hired to teach, but actually is not in the classroom,” he said. “They’re out doing union activity, political activity, which is not what we hired them for.”
Across the state there scores of teachers who work full- or part-time for their local teachers union. In most cases, the districts are compensated, as is the case here in Pittsburgh, where the union reimburses the district for the salaries of Esposito-Visgitis, Harold Grant and Bill Hileman.
“It’s very clear in our contract that every penny is given back and reimbursed to the district. It’s very clear and we do that religiously,” Esposito-Visgitis said.
But Rep. Saccone cites other districts who do not get reimbursed and contends that even those that do are getting short-changed, by losing the services of their most veteran teachers.
He’s sponsoring a bill that would limit teachers to no more than 15 days of union activity a year, saying their primary job is to teach.
“Yet we have our most experienced teachers doing political activity. They should be back in the classroom, doing you union activity after duty,” Rep. Saccone said.
But right now, it’s up to the individual school districts. The special assignments are negotiated as part of the labor contract and Pittsburgh Superintendent Dr. Anthony Hamlet says it’s likely to continue.
KDKA’s Andy Sheehan: “But you don’t see it as a problem?”
Dr. Hamlet: “I don’t see a problem with it right now. I haven’t seen it as an issue.”
The union says these teachers are providing the district a service, developing programs such as early childhood education and career and technical training.
Esposito-Visgitis calls Rep. Saccone’s bill nothing short of union busting.
“Absolutely, it’s an attack on unions and unionization and union members. Absolutely,” she said.
But Rep. Saccone said, “This is not union busting. This is ghost busting.”