The Bureau of Labor Statistics data released Tuesday looked at the average pay of secondary, middle and elementary schoolteachers in various metro areas around the state as of May 2010. Long Island had the highest salaries in all of those categories.
The average salary here for an elementary schoolteacher was the highest at $86,440. That contrasted with a statewide average of $67,940 and the nation's $54,330.
The five boroughs of New York City were lumped into a metro area that includes counties in Northern New Jersey and north of the city. That area's average pay for an elementary schoolteacher was $69,040.
Since at least 2008, teachers' salaries on Long Island have far outpaced the state average, and the gap has widened slightly for elementary teachers. In 2008 for example, the average $82,050 for an elementary schoolteacher here topped the state's average by $17,050. In 2010 the gap was $18,500. The gaps narrowed slightly for high school and middle school teachers.
School district salaries have long been a point of contention on Long Island because education is largely funded by property taxes. Some critics want to see lower salaries.
"They are way too high," said Fred Gorman, co-founder of Long Islanders for Educational Reform. "They don't want to take into account that they only work 188 days."
But Jeff Rozran, an English teacher at Syosset High School and president of the Teacher Association there, said, "Teachers' salaries are pretty much in line with the salaries in other regions when you look at other things like the cost of housing," he said.
A local economist echoed that view. "When you talk about teachers being paid too much, you need to compare it to what it costs to get by as a middle-class person on Long Island, which is well above what it costs in the southern United States or the Midwest," said economist Gregory DeFreitas, who heads Hofstra University's labor studies program.
Martin Cantor, an economist who heads the Long Island Center for Socio-Economic Policy, a think tank he founded, said the higher salaries also reflect Long Island's more experienced teachers."The fact is Long Island has more experienced teachers who have been working for a longer period of time," he said.
Both economists were surprised that the federal data focused on the average salary rather than the median, which is the midpoint between the higher and lower salaries. The average salary is easily skewed by the large number of baby boomers, who are older and more highly paid, they said.
Average annual wages for teachers
NYC, Northern suburbs, Northern NJ
New York State
$55, 990: Secondary
SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics