Patrick O'Rourke, president of the Hammond Federation of Teachers, has been put on notice that taxpayers will no longer pay his salary to be a full-time union president. That's as it should be.
O'Rourke is one of very few teachers union presidents whose salary is paid by the school district and not by the teachers they represent.
An Indiana State Board of Accounts audit released Aug. 9 noted that O'Rourke no longer teaches, although the master contract negotiated by both the union and the School Board treats him as a teacher so the district would pay his $73,412 salary.
O'Rourke said he plans to seek ways to "modify the contract to satisfy everyone."
We understand the history of this situation, with the board agreeing to pay O'Rourke's salary as a full-time union president so he would be more available to meet with the administration during the day and so O'Rourke could pursue Hammond teachers' interests in Indianapolis and elsewhere. O'Rourke is a member of the Indiana Education Roundtable.
In a July 27 letter to O'Rourke, school district attorney John Friel said the district couldn't justify continuing to provide his salary. The letter notes nearly 100 teachers have been laid off.
Friel defended the past arrangement.
"The audit seemed to imply that there is something improper about it," Friel said. "Our position is that there is nothing improper, but this is the first time in many years that we have had to lay off teachers."
The fact, though, is that O'Rourke's role as union president is to represent the teachers, and not the district. If he were still in the classroom, it would be easier to justify having the taxpayers pay his salary. But not as a full-time union president.
The School City of Hammond is right to announce it will no longer foot the bill for the teacher union president who no longer teaches. Let the teachers themselves, through their union, pay that salary.