Big teacher payouts are unfair to taxpayers
How much money should an educator earn in a region that values great schools? It’s a tough question, particularly when the earnings of teachers are correlated to seniority far more than to skill or success. But the question must be asked at a time when inflation is eroding the buying power of residents’ paychecks and more than 40% of the average Long Island homeowner's total property tax bill goes to educator salaries and benefits.
The number that easily catches eyes is the 31,000 Long Island educators earning more than $100,000 per year. That’s 57% of such employees of Nassau and Suffolk school districts. New York teachers generally have to have a master's degree, and it’s not remarkable for experienced professionals with advanced degrees to make six figures in most careers. What’s more, Long Island is unusually expensive, and its districts demand highly qualified teachers. For the most part, those salaries shouldn't stoke concern.
The number that's more aggravating is the 663 Long Island educators who made more than $200,000, and the 36 who made over $300,000. And what's insane is how those massive payouts are created, often by cashing out piles of accrued sick and vacation time, in a job that demands about 25% fewer work days than the average career.
On this year’s list of highly paid Island educators, five of the top 10 retired from the Central Islip district, all as teachers, with the top earner making $467,000, three making over $400,000, and all five collecting over $365,000.
The Central Islip contract includes, for a 182-day school year:
- Sick leave of 15 days annually, which can accrue indefinitely if unused.
- Five personal days annually, accruing as sick days if unused.
- Five “bedside care” days annually, for caring for loved ones, but with no proof required of an ill loved one, accruing as sick days if unused.
So while a typical private-sector employee works 240 days a year, Central Islip teachers can earn full pay in just over 155 … or bank time for a big payday.
School-district policies vary widely, with Central Islip’s among the most generous, but many other districts have policies that similarly tax taxpayer wallets. It’s enraging, particularly in combination with teacher unions that fight innovations, like year-round school and online classes shared by multiple schools or districts, that could help move students forward. And it can paint an unfair picture of teacher pay, inappropriately hardening taxpayer attitudes.
Sick days are for healing, not hoarding. Syosset and several other North Shore districts handle this best, giving employees whatever time off they need when they're sick, with no accrual if they're not. And five weeks of paid leave a year for workers whose workplaces are closed 16 weeks a year is overly generous.
Teachers deserve fair pay. They don’t deserve excessive payouts.
MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.