Crunching Superintendent Costs

Question of the day: why is Gov. Christie shellacking school boards over superintendent salaries? First there was the foofaraw over Le Roy Seitz in Parsippany and his new contract that will pay him $234K. Yesterday the Governor’s Office issued a press release trumpeting the refusal of the Executive County Superintendent to approve a new contract in Westfield for Superintendent Margaret Dolan, who will make $203K by the end of the five-year contract. Schools boards and associations are calling foul: it’s an interference in home rule and a board’s ability to secure the services of top professionals. (Parsippany has already paid its attorney $8,000 to mount a legal challenge.)

At a public hearing yesterday, a DOE hearing official explained the reasoning (courtesy of the Press of Atlantic City):
N.J. school superintendents have had average salary increases totaling 46 percent since 2001, and the average salary is now almost $168,000 statewide, and more than $182,000 in districts with more than 1,000 students.

By contrast, he said, the average salary in Pennsylvania is $125,000, and most districts are at least 50 percent larger than those in New Jersey. The average salary in New York State is almost $163,000, but districts there are also larger, while in Delaware the average salary is almost $144,000, and school districts are five times the size of those in New Jersey.
Let’s take a look at Bergen County, home of 74 school districts and (according to the last census data available) 126,123 kids enrolled in public schools. That’s an average of 1,704 kids per district (which, under the caps would limit salaries to $155K, though of course district size varies enormously).

Here's what some districts in Bergen pay for top administrators:

Alpine Public Schools, total enrollment 142 kids in one school, pays Superintendent Kathleen Semergieff $172K (data from 2009). Total cost of top management team is $431K.

Edgewater Public Schools, enrollment of 492 kids in one school, pays Superintendent Ted Blumstein $180K.

Moonachie Public Schools, enrollment of 277 kids in one school, pays Mark Solimo, who functions as superintendent and principal, $158K.

South Hackensack, enrollment of 233 kids in one school, pays Superintendent and B.A. William DeFabiis $225K.

Rochelle Park, with 505 kids in one school, pays Superintendent Lauren Schoen $151K. Total payroll for the superintendent, B.A., and principal is $355K.

That’s five districts, total enrollment 1,649 kids, with a superintendent outlay of $886,000. Seems a tad high.

The point is not that these districts should consolidate. (I chose them as examples of small enrollments with full-time superintendents, not on geographic proximity, though they’re all within one of our 21 counties.) But Christie’s sturm und drang is only partly about governmentally-imposed caps. It's also about eroding the magnetism of home rule that increases the toll on taxpayers as we fund one of the most fragmented and inefficient education systems in America.