Pennsylvania's Allentown School District taxpayers, during 16 years of significant money problems, have been paying over $1.3 million in wages and benefits to a union president who has not been required to teach — or so says a lawsuit brought by two of the district's taxpayers that was filed this week.
The two are suing the Allentown Education Association and the district charging the policy that allows a union president to be exempt from teaching to represent the union is wrong. The suit names the Pennsylvania Public School Employees' Retirement System as a defendant as well.
The Express-Times' Sarah K. Satullo reports that the suit is asking the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court to stop the "full-time release provisions" that are currently part of the state teachers' contracts.
The suit also asks the association to reimburse the cost of salary, pension credits, and benefits that the union official received, along with interest, to the district and the state. The current union president is Debra Tretter, who has led the organization since 2009.
"The PSEA is proud of the work that Deb Tretter does on behalf of her school district, the students of Allentown and the teachers of the district," said David Broderic, spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association.
The suit was filed by the Fairness Center, which calls itself a nonprofit public interest law firm that gives legal counsel to people who face unjust treatment from a union.
Karen Sweigart, who is assistant general counsel for the Fairness Center, stated that this practice by the union is illegal and morally ambivalent. A teacher who takes a full-time position for a private entity such as a union is no longer a public employee, the Center contends.
The Pennsylvania State Education Association calls the suit a nuisance brought by a conservative group meant to harass educators.
The Center has filed the suit on behalf of former school board member Scott Armstrong, a Republican, Steven Ramos who was a candidate for city controller, and James Williams, a Pennsylvania Public School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS) from western Pennsylvania.
When Armstrong was on the board, a district solicitor, John Freund, told the board that PSERS did require that the union reimburse the district for salary and benefits when leave is granted. On Wednesday, Freund said the board will have to review this matter since it is the first of its kind.
Teachers union President Debbie Tretter made $81,608 this year, reports Jacqueline Palochko of The Morning Call. The lawsuit states:
"It's time for the AEA President to either get back in the classroom or off the public dole."
What remains unclear, according to Freund, is whether the reimbursement can be suspended through the use of the collective bargaining process for a contract.
Broderic believes Allentown may not be the only district in the state that releases union presidents from teaching, though it is more commonly done in larger school districts. He added that Tretter's job was a full-time endeavor. She assists in the resolution of disputes, she watches for improper operations, and listens to complaints made to state and local education and fair employment agencies.
Jim Flagg, reporting for The Express-Times, says in most school districts in the state, teachers union presidents have instructional duties along with their union oversight responsibilities.
In an informal poll, Flagg found that most of his readers feel the union should pay their leaders by using money from union dues.