Each year I see several posts regarding the differences and pros/cons of being a district or contract company employee. I have been on both sides of this question on a few occasions and have experienced those pros/cons in person. In this post I’ll share my experience as well as some other information I’ve been told by SLPs regarding their experiences. Please know that the information in this post is a personal account and is not representative of all districts or of all contract companies. It is important that you consider your options personally and choose the option that you feel is best for you!
Of my time working in schools, I have spent about 70% of the time working directly for a district. I have found many benefits of working directly for a school district not always available for those working in the same districts as a contract employee, including:
- Healthcare: My district healthcare has always been very affordable or free. I’ve had the ability to choose from plans with local coverage. Each district I have worked for has provided health, dental, vision, etc. for us. These are with you for 12 months typically, even if you leave a district at the end of the school year, you typically have coverage until your next district begins covering you.
- Retirement: Most districts participate in state retirement programs. While this is not voluntary (the amount is automatically taken out of your pay), it is worth it when you retire. If you happen to leave the state, you will have the option to take your money with you in most cases, with taxes applied. You typically can begin to draw retirement after about 30 years and it is usually a good amount. Some districts offer other additional savings options for retirement, tuition, children’s expenses, medical expenses, etc. These have rarely been available to me with contract companies.
- Loyalty/Preference: If you are a district employee you may have more say in your placement, caseload, office space, etc. You will also likely experience loyalty from your district which may come in the form of smaller caseload, funding for supplies/PD, and job security.
- Leadership: While this is sometimes available to contract employees, leadership opportunities are more often afforded to district employees in my experience. If you are looking to be a leader, working for the district may help you to do this.
- Voice: When working for a district, your voice may ring louder with the administration. As a hard-working employee, you may be able to voice concerns and suggestions to those in decision-making roles and be listened to more.
- PTO/Salary: I love that I have days to take when I’m sick/etc. when working for a district. Because you are usually on a salary, your paycheck is not impacted by breaks and days off. You have a reliable amount you receive each check which makes budgeting much easier.
- Relationships: I have often found that I make deeper relationships when working for districts. While I have met people/co-workers as a contract employee, there is something about being “in the trenches” with others (teachers, SLPs, admins) that helps you to relate to them. While not always the case, I have felt like my best coworker friendships and working relationships have come in my years working for districts.
There have definitely been some cons to working in districts, including:
- Duties: While not always the case (sometimes depending more on your administrators than your employment status), I have had more duties when working directly for districts. These have included lunch duty and bus/dismissal duty. This can impact the amount of time you are able to work on paperwork/prep.
- Pay: In some districts, you may make more as a contract employee than working directly for the district. This is most often the case when you are working for a district that pays their SLPs on a teacher salary schedule.
- Moving: If you work for a district but decide to move to a new area or district, you will need to re-apply and move all of your information to a new place. You will need to interview, be hired, go through new employee trainings, etc. Not having this flexibility can impact those who have spouses moving frequently or those who would like the flexibility to move around the country.
- Funding: School districts have seen an overall decrease in funding. This can directly impact employees looking for therapy and assessment materials as well as PD opportunities. You may have more out-of-pocket costs when working in districts.
- District requirements: When you work for a district, you are often required to attend trainings, presentations, after-school activities, etc. without additional pay. These can feel like they are taking time away from other responsibilities like reports, paperwork, prep, etc. This has been a requirement at many of my districts and is always important to ask about when considering a job with a district.
Contract Company Pros:
I have spent 1 1/2 school years working for a contract company. This included my CFY. My main reason for beginning with a contract company was the ease of finding a position in the city I wanted to move to and some of the other pros that contract companies, particularly larger ones, can offer to their employees. Here are some of the pros I experienced in my time with contract companies:
- Flexibility: Particularly with nationwide companies, you have a ton of options of placements depending on your priorities of location, populations, etc. For example, when I was applying in Chicago, I had 3 options of placements after being “hired” by the contract company. This gave me great options depending on what I was looking for. You also have the ability to move around the country for long- and short-term assignments with certain companies.
- Availability/Interview Assistance: I was able to find a position with short notice when needed. The company was able to help me locate a nearby position and facilitate the hiring process. They took care of setting up the interview, facilitating the initial chats, discussing the process with me, etc.
- Benefits/Paperwork: When you work for a contract company, you fill out benefits/paperwork once (aside from any needed updates). These benefits follow you regardless of the district you work in because you work for the contract company and they are the ones providing your benefits.
- Licensure: Many contract companies can be a huge help in navigating licensure. The contract company I worked for basically facilitated my licensure with Illinois which can be very difficult. They walked me through each step, even called the licensure agencies when needed. Often, they will pay for your licensure if you have signed a contract with them.
- Financial assistance/resources: Many contract companies will pay off your student loans if you sign a certain length of contract with them. While you may have a bit smaller of a paycheck, you really can’t beat those loans being paid off! Many contract companies also have a budget they can provide for your CCC’s payment, PD, tools, assessments, etc.
- Negotiating: While slightly uncomfortable at first, you definitely have more negotiating power with a contract company (insider tip – never take the first offer you receive!). Depending on the company, you may be able to negotiate living stipends, travel stipends, PTO, salary vs hourly, rate, etc. Work with the company to find the compensation package that best fits your needs.
- In/Out & On your Way: Depending on your priorities, being a contract employee may help you to separate yourself from your job. When I worked for a contract company, I was an hourly employee and had a maximum number of hours per day that I would be compensated (typically bell to bell). I did not have typical staff/district responsibilities, duties, PD, etc. At times, these would be approved by the district for me to attend and be paid for but otherwise, were not required. I was able to leave earlier than the district employees and was able to work a second job in the late afternoons/evenings in EI when working for the contract company.
Contract Company Cons:
We have all been “warned” about contract companies at times. While I never had a “bad” experience with a contract company, some people have. There are a few negative aspects to working for these companies, including:
- Profit: Contract companies are for-profit companies. While some take greater profits off of the compensation they receive from districts for your services, they all take some. This means that the district is paying the contract company a larger amount (typically the highest “tier” of pay available from the district) than what you will see, sometimes by a lot. This money covers the staff working at the company and their bills but sometimes it is hard to know how much they “make off of you”.
- Support/Supervision: Depending on the district you are in, you may see more or less of your contract company co-workers. There may be several of the contract company’s employees at a district or they may have just one. You may feel pretty isolated if you are the only one in your district. This is particularly important if you are a CFY. As a CF with a contract company I was provided with a supervisor who was not in my district. This would have been really hard if there had not been another CF supervisor IN the district who happened to be supervising my co-workers at my building. She was able to answer my questions, particularly regarding the district, and was more available for other questions than my actual supervisor was at times. If you are a CF, make sure you ask if your supervisor will be IN-DISTRICT with you. This isn’t make or break, but it is something to consider.
- Job security/conflict of interest: Let’s say you work for a contract company in a district and you LOVE that district/placement! Well, you’re pretty expensive to that district so they may want to hire a direct employee next year if available and you may be out of the district. Or, if you want to stay in that district as a district employee, you likely had a part of your contract company employment contract that stated that you could not work directly for that district for a certain amount of time after they had placed you there unless you want to pay a penalty. While some districts will pay this fee/penalty for you to work directly for them, many will not.
- Contact: Contract companies will contact you often, regardless of if you have worked for them or are not available. I have chosen to keep my options open as I have moved around the country but you can always ask them to stop contacting you.
- References: When you are a contract company employee you may or may not be able to use your district employee co-workers or administrators as a reference for your next job hunt. You may also not be able to or comfortable with using your contract company co-workers/supervisors as references. While this is not always the case, none of my current references were from my time with contract companies.
- Paycheck/Benefits: As a contract company employee, you may have limited benefits or more expensive benefits. You will also need to sign up for a retirement plan that likely isn’t being matched by your employer. Additionally, most contracts are for hourly pay. This means it’s time to up your budgeting skills. You will only be paid for what you work. This means that some paychecks will be much larger than others. You won’t receive paychecks for winter or summer breaks, holidays, days you are sick, etc. This might be negotiable but typically you use a clock hour form to receive your paycheck each month. At times, budgeting can be difficult… but if you’re good at it, this could work for you!
So… which would I recommend? Either! Both district and contract company positions can work for SLPs depending on your priorities and preferences. Make sure to do your research, ask questions, and talk to others. If you have friends in a district or company, chat with them. You can also ask in social media groups about districts or contract companies and usually find somebody who has been there or can connect you. Getting an honest opinion can help you to make the best decision for you.
What has been your experience with districts vs contract companies? Share with us below!