Saturday, January 18, 2020

Teachers in NYC Now Make More Money Than Teachers in the Suburbs

A few years ago, a friend got sick and tired of the commute into her Brooklyn school from Long Island. She found work as a teacher in one of the districts out here and has been there ever since.

You would think that she makes more money out in this fancy Long Island school district. But when I  once teased her about it, she was quick to correct me. Her NYC job was paying $89,000 at the time she had left. Her new district would honor only some of her time. She started at around $62,000.

To her surprise, the $62,000 wasn't the only hit she took. She now pays 6.5% of each check toward her healthcare. Her plan, as she describes is, isn't quite as good as GHI but is ok for her and her daughter. At the time of her interview, she was told that she would pay 6.5% of the healthcare cost. But my friend is very meticulous and she examined each of her first six paychecks from this district. and she learned that she was actually paying 6.5% of every paycheck. This brought her annual salary down toward $57,000 after healthcare (whereas she had been earning $89,000).

It is still a good trade for her. Some folks just can't take the commute from the burbs and the idea of living and working out there, as a teacher, was too good to pass up.

I had a conversation with another friend -a 32 year veteran teacher in one of the higher paying suburban districts out on the Long Island. His pay is $137,000 before his coaching salary. He also pays 6.5% of his overall salary for his healthcare. This brings his pay down to $135,000 (healthcare comes off of his base salary, not his differential). He makes more if his teams goes to the playoffs.

(many suburban school districts do not offer "per session". Instead, their BoE approves a position for jobs like a coach in their budget and allocates a differential to pay the entire position.  His salary is $144,000 with his differential.

You hear, virtually all the time, how suburban districts pay more money than NYC districts. But do they, really? In many instances, city teachers actually make more than teachers in the suburbs. We also work less than suburban teachers do and, in many cases, our school buildings are much more modern.

That old trope from our parents' generation of Ronald Reagan and Huey Lewis is just not accurate.  If you take a careful look at the overall and pay, and carefully define the term "compensation", then compare the city to the suburban districts, the facts may actually surprise you.

(Disclaimer: Everyone likes to point to "the rich" districts, as though that is the only type of district in the Suburbs. That's just not true. For this post, I'm working off of direct knowledge of two middle of the road districts from my county, Suffolk. But, once you disregard the wildly overpriced rich districts, this is the accurate picture). 

Let's look at my second friend and compare his overall compensation with a teacher at top salary in NYC.   NYC teachers top pay is currently 124,909 (128,862 in 2021).  So, off the bat, it seems this suburban teacher is making more -$15,138 more to be precise.

But when you factor in the 6.5% he pays in healthcare, his actual salary is just 128,000. That's how much his healthcare affects his pay. The difference between he and a top earning teacher in NYCDoE district is now just $7,000.

We have to take a look at how our benefits affect our pay as well. If you use any of the Emblem plans, you pay just a small copay with every visit. Nothing is deducted from our paycheck. The City of New York pays 100% our monthly contributions for us. This is another part of our deferred compensation. We are not paid the money in cash each week, but we enjoy the benefit as part of our compensation package. When I was a kid, folks used to call these fringe benefits -benefits that come along with the job but aren't pat of the actual salary.  There is a way to determine how much our deferred compensation for medical care really is. The amount comes each year  along with our W2. Another statement, one that indicates how much was paid on our behalf through the UFT Welfare fund, comes in the mail. For me, this total amount was $35,000 last year. That is a whopping sum of money. This is what the City of New York reported to the IRS so it is as accurate a number as we are ever going to have.

And when you factor this deferred compensation for medical coverage, the top earning teacher's actual pay last year for a New York City teacher was really $156,862.  Once you factor in this medical cost, the total compensation package for a top earning teacher is now more than my friend's by about $28,000 per year.

It gets better during retirement. Retirees in many districts must continue paying into their healthcare systems. Not so in our case. One of the best factors of choosing to teach in New York City is that, once we're vested, our medical coverage is provided.

Now when we retire, my friend and I will still not make the same percentage of our salary. In both cases, our Tier IV pensions will be 60% of the average of our three highest earning years after 30 years of service, For him, this amount will be higher. If his team does not make the playoffs, and he receives no other raises, his 60% will be based off of his pay and differential; a total of $141,000. That's $84,000 per year. Not too bad! A top NYC teacher would expect to receive just $73,000 per year. That's an $11,000 difference (no other penalties or beneficiaries are being addressed here. Let's just assume we both take the most amount of pension).

Yet teachers in the city of two other sources of retirement that teachers in the suburbs do not. The first is the Annuity Savings Accumulation Fund, or ASAF. If you haven't heard about this annuity, then head over to Chaz' School Daze (who writes extensively about our retirement benefits) and read up on it. It's a small annuity the city pays into on our behalf:

The ASAF is created for each teacher that has completed step 8b of the salary scale.  Every year the DOE gives $400 to the teacher's ASAF and the City chips in by crediting the total account balance with an annual interest rate of 5%.

Chaz writes that, at retirement, many folks can expect to take between $1,300 and $2,000 more per year in retirement. So the $73,000 that a city teacher make then becomes $74,3000.

At this point, we have to talk about the difference in annuities. Our annuity (TDA or 403B savings account) is money that we save and is paid to us in addition to our pension. We pay taxes on this money only when we withdraw at retirement. All districts, including the city, offer an annuity. But our annuity is run by actuaries who work for the fund and the suburban district annuities are run by for-profit banks. The result? I benefit from an amazing 7% compounded interest contribution year annually (deposited every month). When retirement happens, a city teacher can ("and should") withdraw only the interest of his or her annuity. Every other district in the state of New York is not eligible for this and, in most cases, withdraw their actual balance to help compensate. My retirement package will be closer -a lot closer- to that magic 100% amount.

So when you factor super low cost medical coverage, and two annuities (each of which pays more than the suburbs) you see that the $11,000 extra my buddy makes isn't exactly worth it.

You can debate me if you want. But the pay is close. The buildings are new. The retirement outlook is better. It's clear to me we make more money that a typical teacher in the suburbs.


  1. It's not just pay-
    30 years of Danielson
    Snow days are called much more frequently or they get the time off
    NYC is allotting for 3 snow days if we don't use them too bad for us LI gets a longer Memorial Day break.

    Add these factors in and LI is clearly the winner

    1. I don't know about those better behaved students. I think, ince we get past this insane discipline issue we have that some of the issues we face are similar to those I have heard in the suburbs. I also work in a very modern building and closer to 30 or percent of teachers these days do. I think that matters (in terms of my experience vs. others'). About parking and wear & tear, that's a choice you snd I make. I could choose to live in the city and not have to park/drive so far every day. That's just a choice.

      But, working conditions aside, the pay is much more similar in nature and in type. There is just nondoubt about the fact that 80s and 90s, where city teachers are seen as less qualified and make less, are just over.

      Also, never forget, we teach f___ng circles around our cointerparts precisely because of the challenges we face. I have always said, we are the best yrban teaching corps in the US).
      Thanks for dropping the comment!

  2. You didn't mention the most important difference. We have so much better job security! If enrollment drops in the suburbs because so many people can't afford to live there anymore, then teachers are excessed and they can't become ATRs. But the suburbs are usually a more enjoyable experience. I would say working in district 26 or 31 would be the best of both worlds.

    1. D30 isn't half bad either. But I DID forget about the security!! A colleague's wife, who has been teaching in the suburbs for as long he has been teaching in NYC, still receives those pink slips at the end of every year. She's been at it for 15 years and is tenured!
      Great point! Thanks!

  3. You are correct in terms of compensation (total of base pay, medical, ASAF, TDA, etc). Folks who have not stayed current on their knowledge find this hard to beleive.

    Here is another: On LI MOST districts do not offer the possibility of selling unused sick days upon retirement. I'm retiring out here with about 155 days (bad move on my part, I know) and get absolutely nothing for them. How much would I receive if I had that many days in CAR upon retirement?

    1. Oh my gosh!! I really had not idea about that!!! The city pays 1 day for every two in cash when we leave. You would get 77.5 days in cash were you in the city (at $130 (the approximate cost of a sub), that rquates to $10,000.
      Oh, my. Hey, I'm very sorry!

    2. Chaz mentioned in the past that they give you receive cash based this way—Its calculated as 1/200, which the union won as a grievance back almost twenty years ago. As for the other, its your FAS.

  4. I don't pay much attention but I think I've been paying medical since I retired.

    1. Wow! Really? Everything I have read, and my mother in-law's experience says that 80/20 medicare/GHI for folks who are vested. It has become one of the most talked about perks for city employees.