Monday, June 6, 2016

Christie Blames the N.J. Superintendent Cap on Teacher Unions and Says He'll Think About it Another Day

Back in 2010 N.J. Governor Chris Christie "pretty much unilaterally,"reports today's N.J. Spotlight,  imposed a salary cap on school superintendents: up $175K per year for the state's largest districts the same as his own salary, and as low as $125K for the state's smallest districts.  (Districts over 10,000 students are exempt; superintendents, at the discretion of the board and the executive county superintendent, are eligible for merit bonuses.) This cap has become the bane of superintendents, school boards (see this report from NJSBA for details), and the state association that represents school CEO's. 

Lawsuits have been filed. School boards have tried to evade the cap, especially as over the last five years salaries for principals and business administrator creep up to and over the cap. As a result, some superintendents  flee to New York and Pennsylvania, where salaries are capless. For example, Brian Osborne, the highly-regarded superintendent of South Orange-Maplewood Public Schools " couldn't resist a job in New Rochelle, N.Y., with a base pay of $265,000 a year—or $87,500 more than he could earn in New Jersey under a salary cap that would hit him as soon as his contract expired June 30."

From the Wall Street Journal: "With Dr. Osborne's decision, 10 of the 43 districts in New York's Westchester County are now run by former New Jersey superintendents who left after Gov. Chris Christie imposed the salary cap in February 2011, saying it would help limit sky-high property taxes."

And some N.J. superintendents, having reached the cap, retire early and then "double-dip," collecting pensions as well as per diem payments from school districts that need interim superintendents. New Jersey Watchdog reported in 2013 that 45 retired superintendents "have worked as interim superintendents during the current school year in New Jersey. The retirees collectively received more than $4 million annually from the Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund, the investigation found through public records searches."

The Star-Ledger gave an example: 
Karen Lake was another schools leader highlighted in the report. The retired former superintendent of Hillsborough Township schools in Somerset County collects $131,964 in annual pension – but also makes $108,230 for working three days a week currently as interim superintendent at Mahwah schools, in Bergen County, the report states.
“It’s the way the system is set up,” said Lake. “I took advantage of it.”
Schools boards, superintendents, and their representing associations have been waiting anxiously for the salary cap to expire in November. But Spotlight reports that last week at a press conference in Trenton, "the governor used the opportunity to take another poke at the New Jersey Education Association, the teachers union, which he said had been seeking the caps, something its leadership denies."
“Why don’t you ask the teachers union, they’re the ones who asked me to put the caps on?” he said. 
When pressed for his own intentions, Christie said he had not yet begun considering the prospect that lay more than six months away. 
“I don’t have an intention,” he said. “It doesn’t sunset until November, and it’s June. I have a lot of decisions to make between now and November, and that one is not at the top of my list at the moment. Come October, I’ll start thinking about it
Maybe he should ask N.J. school boards about how the cap has interfered with their ability to retain great school leaders. We've been thinking about it for a long time.

1 comment:

StateAidGuy said...

I oppose the supt salary cap too, but even without the cap NJ isn't going to be able to keep up with suburban New York State.

School spending in Rockland, Nassau, and especially Westchester is much higher than spending in even the wealthiest NJ districts.

Cross state per pupil spending comparisons can get fuzzy because of different ways spending is calculated, but NYS has a lot of districts that spend more than $25k per pupil, even more than $30,000 per pupil.

Counting pensions, the average NJ district spends about $19k per pupil, which happens to be South Orange-Maplewood's approximate level. Only one district in Westchester County spends at that level. New Rochelle is the second lowest spending district in Westchester, but it still spent $22,386 per student in 2014.

There are a few reasons for the NY/NJ disparities. NYS taxes and corporate fines are higher than NJ's, so it has more revenue, but also it is less indebted. Significantly, NYS's aid distribution is much flatter than NJ's and even very affluent districts in NYS get thousands of dollars per student in state aid.