BRENTWOOD - With many Long Island school districts facing a financial crisis, teacher salaries and benefits are gaining attention in the debate over school taxes.

According to experts, you can't significantly lower costs without looking to the teachers. Their compensation makes up about 70 percent of school districts' budgets, and on the Island, educators are earning a median salary of more than $90,000.

This year, unions accepted raises of 1.5 percent or less because of the poor economy, but teachers are still entitled to "step" increases, which are automatic pay bumps based on experience.

With the "step" increases, a Nassau County teacher with six years experience and enough training credits could get a raise of about $5,000, or 6 percent. According to attorney John Gross, who represents local school districts, that logic doesn't make sense when other cuts are being made.

Teachers also contribute less for their health benefits and pensions than most private-sector employees. Those low rates often apply to retired teachers, many of whom are covered for life, while the cost to taxpayers rises to the double digits.

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