While local students are forced to go without basic supplies like toilet paper and textbooks, the School District of Philadelphia is giving away hundreds of thousands of dollars of free office space each year to the local teachers union.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has long maintained a station at district headquarters at 440 North Broad Street, provided free of charge. It’s part of a handshake agreement that goes back “50 or 60 years,” according to PFT vice president Arlene Kempin.

A similar office space in Center City could cost more than $60 per square foot. At those rates, the PFT is getting upwards of $201,600 in free space each year from taxpayers who are providing a windowless, 14’ x 20’ office to do private, union work on public time and property.

That free office space — and the union employees who work there while being paid by the district, accruing seniority and earning a public pension despite leaving the classroom — is being questioned at a time when the school district, facing an $80 million deficit, struggles to pay for basic educational necessities.

“Allowing teachers to work full-time for the PFT — a private political organization — while on the public payroll is bad enough,” Fairness Center lead counsel David Osborne said. “Providing them free office space adds insult to taxpayers’ injury and is likely also an illegal use of public resources.”

The union does pay for its own telephone lines and Internet connections, according to district spokesman Fernando Gallard, but does not contribute to other utility or custodial costs associated with maintaining the office space.

The arrangement is unique: American Federation of Teachers branches in New York City and Boston, for example, are not provided free office space at their respective district headquarters.

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