School District Employee Versus Contractor: How to Decide? Degree in hand, you get to choose whether to work directly for a school or contract at multiple locations. Choose wisely with this guide. Make It Work
Make It Work  |   September 01, 2014
School District Employee Versus Contractor: How to Decide?
Author Notes
  • Katy Duffy-Sherr, MS, CCC-SLP, works with preschool students with special needs in the the Oakland (California) Unified School District.
    Katy Duffy-Sherr, MS, CCC-SLP, works with preschool students with special needs in the the Oakland (California) Unified School District.×
Article Information
School-Based Settings / Make It Work
Make It Work   |   September 01, 2014
School District Employee Versus Contractor: How to Decide?
The ASHA Leader, September 2014, Vol. 19, 36-37. doi:10.1044/leader.MIW.19092014.36
The ASHA Leader, September 2014, Vol. 19, 36-37. doi:10.1044/leader.MIW.19092014.36
Congratulations! You just graduated from one of the most competitive programs in the United States. Now, you have to get a job. You may ask, “Wait, is that part of the PRAXIS?”
No, unfortunately not. Figuring out how and where to get a job is not in the graduate school curriculum. And if you’ve decided to become a school-based speech-language pathologist, there’s another decision you face that’s not covered in your coursework: whether to work for a contracting company or become a direct employee of a school district. That also is up to you.
When I graduated three years ago from San Francisco State University with a master’s degree in communicative disorders, I also faced this decision. To help you navigate the same choice, I will take you through my decision-making process. And I won’t tell you my final decision until later—just to, well, keep you in suspense.
What to ask
My first step was creating a list of questions to better understand each option:
  • How much of my paycheck will go toward health insurance?

  • What are my retirement options? 401k or state retirement program?

  • Will the contracting company match my 401k contributions?

  • How many paid sick days and personal days will I receive?

  • Will my professional dues and continuing education courses be paid for by my employer?

  • Will I be placed on the teachers’ salary schedule or do SLPs have their own salary schedule?

  • Will I receive budget for materials? How much will it be? Monthly or yearly?

I easily answered these questions with a little Internet research. School districts specify health insurance costs, allotted sick/personal days and salary schedules in contracts posted online. You can find the contracts and benefits information on the human resources pages of most school districts’ websites.
Contracting companies are not so free with their information. I asked my list of questions during my interviews and in follow-up e-mails. Most companies seemed open to answering my questions this way.
Weighing the pros and cons
My next decision-making step was to consider the pluses and minuses of each option. Here are some general pros and cons for each option (these may not cover specific school districts or contracting companies).
School district pros
  • More options for retirement, including state retirement programs and 403b options.

  • On average, 10 paid sick leave/personal days per year.

  • Salaried, rather than hourly, position.

  • Supportive union to advocate for you.

Schools district cons
  • May not pay professional society dues.

  • May not cover continuing education costs.

  • Offer less flexibility in the type of treatment settings.

Contracting company pros
  • Ease of finding jobs between states with bigger companies.

  • Potential flexibility in work settings (private clinics and school sites throughout the week).

  • May pay professional society dues and continuing education costs.

Contracting company cons
  • Generally pay hourly.

  • Offer less paid sick time/personal days.

  • May place employees in less desirable, difficult-to-fill positions.

Now that I had my answers, it was decision time. So, how to decide?
To find my answer, I needed to figure out what was most important to me. The priorities I listed were having a secure retirement, low health care costs and a supportive union. Based on these, I elected to (here it is, the big reveal) pursue a career path working as a school district employee. But that doesn’t work for everyone.
For example, you might know you will be moving frequently due to your partner’s job, or that your health care is covered by your partner’s or another family member’s plan. You might want to spend your work week in different settings, such as a private clinic, a school site and a skilled nursing facility. In that case, a contracting job might work better for you. A large contracting company may be beneficial if your family moves around the country. On the other hand, if being near your children is a priority, then working in their school district may be more appealing.
Knowing what you want from your job supports you in the interview process and helps weed out jobs that don’t meet your needs. It also gives you the confidence to say what you want and need, which, in turn, helps your potential employer put together the right hiring package for you.
Good luck. I know you can do it.
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September 2014
Volume 19, Issue 9