Compare Working as a Contracted Therapist vs. a School Employee

Pros and Cons—Which Works Best for You?

Want to practice therapy in schools? The growing demand for special education and related services means your chances to help students with disabilities and disorders are plentiful.

contracted therapist vs. school employeeBut a chronic lack of special ed funding means more districts are spending less on it, and aren’t hiring many therapist employees.

Fortunately, finding a job with a school district isn’t your only option. Have you thought about “hanging out your shingle” as an independent contractor?

Here at Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS), we know it’s important to weigh the status of being a contracted therapist vs. a school employee. Both have pluses and minuses, benefits and challenges.

What are the major differences between providing therapy as contracted work versus as an employee of a school district? Here are a few major factors you’ll want to think through as you decide how to pursue your calling and build your career.

Five Big Differences Between a School District Employee’s Work and Contracted Work

  1. Schedule Flexibility
    School employees report to work on the schedule the school district sets. Above and beyond the hours put in during the regular instructional day, they’re often expected to attend meetings before and after school, as well as school-related extracurricular events.Contracted therapists negotiate what days they work and for how long. You can build your work schedule around your own circumstances and personal preferences. You can set and bill for your own “off hour” availability. Provided you show up when you’ve agreed to show up and successfully manage your caseload, your time is your own, enabling you to more easily strike a fulfilling work-life balance.
  2. Take-Home Pay
    School employees are subject to federal, state (in 43 of 50 cases), and local income tax withholding. Districts also take out their employees’ social security tax and other deductions, such as the cost of participating in a health care or other benefit plan, before the paycheck reaches the employee’s bank account. These deductions may mean less stress when it’s time to file taxes but they also definitely mean smaller take-home pay. Contracted therapists bill the number of hours they work and take home the full rate of pay for those hours. A contracted therapist’s rate vs. a school employee’s is typically higher. Independent contractors are still responsible for income, social security, and other taxes (check with a tax professional). They often end up paying their entire health insurance cost, though you might work with a company that offers help. (For example, PTS connects you with an independent broker who can help secure sensible policies to fit your budget.) When you conscientiously manage your money, bigger take-home pay can improve your quality of living.
  3. contracted therapist vs. school employeeBusiness Expenses
    School employees should have the materials they need to do their work supplied to them (though we’ve all heard news stories about public school teachers stocking their classrooms out of their own pocket—94% of them do). Employees can’t deduct associated expenses like their professional wardrobe or commuting costs; these are simply the costs of having the job. Contracted therapists must buy the specialized tools and equipment they need unless the building or district already happens to own them. The good news is they can usually write off that spending—along with a professional wardrobe, commuting costs, and others—as business expenses at tax time (always consulting a tax professional before doing so). (Here at PTS, our extensive lending library of testing resources goes a long way toward making sure clinicians have commonly used but frequently expensive evaluations, assessments, and other tools of the trade.)
  4. Benefits and Time Off
    School employees receive benefit packages as part of their compensation. Benefits can include health insurance, vision and dental insurance, retirement plans, as well as paid time off and sick leave. Contrary to common misunderstanding, public school teachers aren’t “paid to do nothing” over the summer; most districts distribute the salary teachers earn over 12 months. But many school employees do think those three months away from the classroom are a perk! Contracted therapists must get their own medical and professional liability insurance (again, when you’re working with PTS, we’ll connect you with an independent broker who’ll find your best options). You’re only paid for the hours and days you work, document, and bill. If you want the summer off to pursue other opportunities or simply to soak up some sun, it’s yours! But you can also make extra money providing therapy in Extended School Year (ESY) programs.
  5. Organization with Other Professionals
    School teachers often pay union dues so they can enjoy such benefits as collective bargaining power, discount programs, life insurance benefits, and so on. Contracted therapists pay association dues, not union dues. Association benefits might include discount programs, liability insurance, and professional development, but usually not collective leverage at a bargaining table—you are, after all, an independent contractor, and must be your own best advocate (but you can always count on PTS to be in your corner).

Why Considering the Contracted Therapist Model Makes Sense

We can’t tell you which employment status is best for you, and you should always talk to tax and legal professionals about the impact each would have on you.

But we do believe, given special education’s persistent budget crunch, working as an independent contractor is an option more therapists should keep in mind.

You may have to make this decision several times over the course of your career. The speech-language pathologist, say, who scores a job as a school employee this year may become a contracted speech therapist the next if the school board decides to tighten the district’s purse strings.

If you’re ready to consider more closely serving kids as a contracted therapist instead of a school employee, click the button below to download our free eBook.

contracted therapist vs. school employee

This colorful, nine-page PDF covers:

  • The three biggest ways working as a contracted therapist gives you more power and control over your life.
  • The five-step process PTS uses to make sure therapists wind up where they can do the most good for not only their students but also their careers.
  • How PTS supports independent therapists’ success and professional growth in ways other companies don’t.

Click the button above to grab your free eBook and find out more about how contracted therapy work can expand your opportunities and accelerate your successful therapy career!

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