Report: Teacher Paid, Didn’t Teach In Lakewood


lee-c-seglemLakewood, NJ – For nearly a decade, Lakewood’s perennially cash-strapped school district paid tens of thousands of dollars per year to a teacher who didn’t teach.

The teacher was the head of the Lakewood Education Association, the local teachers union. Under the terms of a contract that some current district leaders may not have been aware of, the person who occupied that role was able to work full time on contract negotiations and other union business, with the union and district splitting the costs of the position.

Over the final four years of that arrangement, the deal cost taxpayers a total of $182,000, a state investigation has found.

While such an arrangement is perfectly legal – and common among public employee unions across the state – it doesn’t sit well with township resident Vincent Perito. The 76-year-old retiree thinks that money ought to have gone instead toward textbooks or other basic needs that have gone unmet in recent years.

“If it’s school money it should go to the schools,” Perito said. “We shouldn’t be paying a union representative to be doing work that doesn’t benefit the schools.”

As documented in the Asbury Park Press’ recent four-part investigative series, “Cheated,” the Lakewood School District has a long history of lax fiscal controls and chronic record-keeping problems that include a grossly miscalculated high school graduation rate.

Yet Lakewood’s accommodation to its teachers union in this case is by no means overgenerous – by New Jersey standards.

In a report released Wednesday, the State Commission of Investigation cited instances in which taxpayers not only fund the full salaries of public union representatives, but also pick up the tab for cars, office space, computers and other equipment used for union business.

These agreements are often hidden from public view, the SCI found. In some cases the agency had to exercise its subpoena power to obtain the legal documents that brought these practices to light, SCI Assistant Director Lee Seglem noted.

Seglem said in some cases these agreements were initially struck decades ago and were simply renewed as a matter of routine.

“Sometimes we had to go back three and four times and say, ‘Are you sure? Could you look again?’ ” Seglem said. “An average taxpayer going in there (using the Open Public Records Act) is not going to have the same success necessarily, unless they’re lucky, and that’s no way to run open government.”

What the SCI encountered in Lakewood “illustrates how the process can be obscured by lax transparency,” the report states.

District officials initially told state investigators that no one affiliated with the teachers union was authorized for full-time leave from regular teaching duties to conduct union business.

When investigators probed further, however, they found just such a provision in a separate, sidebar agreement that had been negotiated between the Lakewood Board of Education and the Lakewood Education Association in July 2001. While collective bargaining agreements with public employee unions are accessible to the public through the state Public Employee Relations Commission website, such sidebar agreements generally aren’t posted, Seglem said.

Lakewood’s 2001 agreement was later renewed and remained in effect until the 2010-11 school year, at which point it expired and the Lakewood Education Association representative returned to the classroom, according to the SCI report. The teachers union has been without a contract since that time.

“I don’t think there was a deliberate attempt to hide it,” Seglem said of Lakewood’s agreement. “I think there was some confusion about that. We found this in a number of government entities. In some cases they weren’t aware of it at all.”

District officials declined comment. The Lakewood Education Association president and her immediate predecessor could be reached for comment.

{Asbury Park Press/ Newscenter}


  1. Can someone explain why Lakewood’s school district is cash strapped? Majority of the township does not send to public school – yes they may receive some aid but nothing like it costs to send a kid to public school and everyone is paying these ridiculous taxes.

  2. It seems that you are a bit selective in your choice of articles from the APP concerning the Lakewood BOE.

    I wonder why?

  3. Audit payroll, accounts payable. For the board and the union. You’ll then know exactly what money is paid out.

  4. Your headline is a little off. The story was about a teacher being paid to do union adminstrative work rather than teach in the classroom – work which is just as much work as classroom teaching, and much less personally rewarding. This is rather common in the public school system. Rather than force teachers to take on more administrative duties, some systems pay a teacher to do only this, so that teachers in the classroom won’t be distracted from actual teaching.

    Remember, teachers in public school systems teach a full day, not a half day as in the yeshiva system. It seems to me the people involved are really opposed to the union, and that this is one way of bringing pressure by generating publicity.

  5. To #5: Public school ends in the early afternoon. Just about the same time as Rebbeim finish. They do not teach a whole day. The rational, which is 100% true and applies to ALL teachers, is that a teacher’s day does not end when he\she walks out of the classroom. There are many more hours spent at home preparing classes, doing paperwork, upgrading skills, learning more knowledge, etc. You seem to be putting down teachers who teach in the Yeshiva system. As someone who knows both systems, I can tell you that teaching in Public school is a much more cushioned job with substantially more benefits, both monetarily and in terms of prep hours and free time. Someone who is doing clerical work should not be paid as a teacher no matter how important the work he is doing.

  6. In New York (State and City) the various government agencies will pay full salaries to people who spend their time working only on union duties. This is standard operating procedure.

  7. This is standard procedure for both union representatives (as it frees up teachers to teach) as well as in cases where teachers have been found unfit to be In a classroom and have not yet had a hearing – which is not the case here.