School Custodians Earn More Than Bronx Teachers

Base pay for first-year custodians tops salary for rookie teachers.

Teachers in at least one Bronx school earn less money than the building custodian, a stat that has surprised students and parents.

Although it is commonly assumed  teachers' wages top the salaries of custodians, an NBC New York analysis of public payrolls shows many custodians make more money than even the highest paid city teachers.

According to the union contract governing New York City Custodian Engineers, the men and women responsible for keeping school buildings clean and operating can make up to $114,000 a year in base pay. The highest paid teacher, with a masters degree and decades of tenure, can hope to make just over $100,000 in base pay.

Courtney Davis, a 10th-grader at the Roosevelt Education Campus in the Bronx, believes it should be the other way around.

"I think that the teachers should be making more money because we depend on them more than we depend on the custodians," she said.

The pay-scale differences are even more pronounced for rookie teachers and custodians.

First-year New York City school teachers without graduate degrees,make about $45,000 a year.  The minimum pay for a first-year custodial engineer is almost $80,000 a year.

"On what theory do custodians get paid more than senior teachers?  It's outrageous," said former New York City Schools Chancellor Harold Levy.

The relatively generous pay packages for custodians represent squandered resources, says Levy. He argues it's money that would be better spent on recruiting talented teachers.

Local 891, the  union that represents custodians, defends the salaries its members collect.

"The salaries earned by our members are based on their responsibilities ... they are by no means excessive.  There is nothing to be gained by pitting one segment of the work force against another," said Robert Troeller, Local 891 president.

Unionized custodian engineers are paid based upon the square footage of the school facilities they are responsible for keeping clean and operating. They work 12 months a year, unlike teachers who may take summers off.

Despite the longer work year, some parents are convinced custodians are over-compensated.

"I think they're making too much money because teachers put in more work," said Naomi Rodriguez, as she walked her preschooler past Roosevelt Educational Campus. 

Teachers, themselves, aren't so quick to judge the salaries of fellow public servants.

Evan Stone, a Bronx middle school teacher who co-founded the non-profit advocacy group Educators 4 Excellence, has long pushed for higher teacher salaries. 

However, he is unwilling to say increased teacher pay should come at the cost of reducing custodian wages. 

"I think the fact that custodial engineers make more than teachers demonstrates the fact that teachers aren't paid enough," Stone said.

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