Pediatric Therapeutic Services

Contracted Therapist vs. School Employee: Five Questions

Demand for special education and related services is high. But school districts can’t always afford to hire therapist employees.

Female school-based contracted therapist sits with elementary school girl at desk in classroom as girl practices reading aloud.

Have you considered serving students as a contracted therapist

At Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS), we’ve built one of the greater Delaware Valley’s biggest networks of clinicians who work as independent contractors.

Contract work isn’t right for everyone. But it affords many therapists the freedom and fulfillment they might not find on a school district’s payroll.

Here are five questions to ask yourself about working as a school employee or a contracted therapist.

1. How Much Flexibility in My Work Schedule Do I Want or Need?

School employees report to work according to the district’s schedule. Above and beyond 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.

As a contracted therapist, you negotiate what days you work and for how long. You build your schedule around your own circumstances and preferences. You can set and bill for your own “off-hour” availability.

Provided you show up when you’ve agreed to and successfully manage your caseload, your time is your own. You’ll be able to balance your job and the rest of your life as you want or need to balance it.

2. Do I Want to Pay My Own Social Security and Medicare Taxes?

Since everyone pays taxes, the more accurate question is: “Do I mind being responsible for tracking my own Medicare and Social Security tax payments and making them on time?”

School employees are subject to federal, state (in most cases), and local income tax withholding. Districts also take out employees’ Social Security tax, Medicare tax, and other deductions—for example, healthcare plan participation—before the paycheck reaches the employee’s bank account. These deductions may mean less stress when filing taxes but also mean smaller take-home pay.

If you’re a contracted therapist, you’ll bill the number of hours you work and take home your rate of pay based on those hours. An independent contractor’s rate is typically higher than an employee’s rate.

You’re still responsible for income, Social Security, Medicare, and other taxes. You’ll want to consult a tax professional to be sure you file correctly and on time. You’ll also probably end up paying your 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.)

Uncle Sam gets his share either way. But bigger take-home pay can improve your quality of living if you manage your budget conscientiously.

3. Would it Make Sense for Me to Deduct my Business Expenses?

School employees should be supplied with the materials they need to work. However, this means that employees can’t deduct associated expenses like their professional wardrobe or commuting costs. Such expenses are simply the price of having the job.

When you’re a contracted therapist, you must buy the specialized tools and equipment you need unless your building or district already owns them. The good news is you can usually write off that spending—along with a professional wardrobe, commuting costs, and others—as business expenses (always consulting a tax professional).

4. How Important to Me are Benefits and Paid Time Off?

School employees receive benefit packages in their compensation. Benefits can include health, vision, and dental insurance, retirement plans, and paid time off and sick leave.

Female school-based contracted therapist takes notes on clipboard and smiles at young girl who sits on couch in therapy room.

Contrary to common misunderstanding, public school teachers aren’t “paid to do nothing” over the summer. Most districts distribute teachers’ salaries over 12 months. But many school employees do see those three months away from the classroom as a perk!

As a contracted therapist, you must get your own medical and professional liability insurance (again, PTS will 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 to take the summer to pursue your continuing education, enjoy other opportunities, or simply soak up some sun for your emotional and mental health, it’s yours! But you could also make extra money providing therapy in Extended School Year (ESY) programs.

5. How Important Is Organizing with Other Professionals to Me?

School teachers often pay union dues so they can enjoy such benefits as collective bargaining power, discount programs, life insurance, and so on.

Contracted therapists pay association dues, not union dues. Association benefits might include discount programs, liability insurance, and continuing education, but usually not collective leverage at a bargaining table. You are an independent contractor and must be your own best advocate (but can always count on PTS to be in your corner).

Consider the Contracted Therapist Model with PTS

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

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

If you’re ready to consider 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

You’ll discover:

  • The three biggest ways working as an independent contractor gives you more power and control over your life.
  • The five-step process PTS uses to make sure therapists go where they can do the most good for their students and their own 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 now!

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