Monday, April 11, 2011

Probing Superintendent Caps

Tom Moran’s piece in the Star-Ledger yesterday derides the new salary cap on school superintendents and mourns the loss of high-quality administrators to New York. (The Empire State has no superintendent caps at the moment, although Gov. Cuomo has proposed ones similar to NJ's.)
The cap will save just under $10 million a year, according to the governor’s office. That compares to $24 billion in school costs. With luck, your property taxes might drop by a dime.

This isn’t about money; it’s about politics. The governor is a wedge politician who needs a steady stream of enemies to kick around and demonize. Superintendents had to take their turn, even if that disrupts some of the state’s best school systems.
But is that really the point?

NJ’s public school system has 591 school districts that serve 1.38 million kids. That’s an average of 2,335 kids per district.

New York State has 814 public school districts that serve 2.7 million kids. That’s an average of 3,317 kids per district.

Pennsylvania has 1,787,351 public school students in 500 districts. That’s an average of 3,575 kids per district.

Maryland has 869,113 kids in 24 public school districts. That’s an average of 36,213 kids per district.

Connecticut has 574,012 kids in 195 districts. That’s an average of 2,944 kids per district.

Delaware has 117,668 kids in 33 school districts. That’s an average of 3,566 kids per district.

While there are plenty of states with small school systems, we top them all. That’s expensive and inefficient. Bergen County in particular, which was the focus of Mr. Moran’s piece because the commute to NY is so short, has 75 superintendents for 70 districts. (Figure that one out.)

There’s a lot to dislike about the superintendent salary cap; our Republican governor’s attempt to thwart market forces is its own brand of cognitive dissonance. But maybe one of the impulses behind it is to jog New Jerseyans into a reevaluation of our devotion to home rule and its attendant inefficiencies.

Anyway, the superintendent interviewed in the piece, who makes $232,000 in his current gig in Paramus (4,200 kids), is moving to Nyack, where, Mr. Moran reports, he'll make even more.

Imagine how much we could pay our best superintendents if we had 250 school districts (not to mention other top-rate administrators). It’s not about the poor fellow in Paramus commuting across the Thruway every day for his cool quarter mil per year. It’s about the inefficiencies of our public school infrastructure. It really is about money, or at least the economics of scale.

3 comments:

kallikak said...

If memory serves me, Maryland's system of county superintendents (24 or 21?) actually yields higher per-student administrative costs than our ultra-diffuse home-rule protocol.

Who woulda' thunk it, especially given the lower pay scales south of the Delaware?

Then again, school systems in some ways resemble retail bank branch networks. In that business (as I know from experience) span-of-control issues require significant administrative staffs below the level of bank president.

In the end, you need at least one pair of serious boots on the ground to run a typical district in this state. Who cares what you call the person? You will still have to pay for the skills.

A. Gad Fly said...

Kallikak nailed it.

You write axiomatically of home rule with its "attendant inefficiencies" as if there is some inescapable, obvious and overriding truth.

Maybe you should consider the attendant efficiencies of arranging for the taxpayers who are footing the bill for local spending to have more direct authority over the administrators doing the local spending.

NJ Left Behind said...

A. Gadfly: taxpayers do have direct authority over administrators doing the local spending. It's called the School Board, right?