New Bill Would Eliminate NJ Superintendent Salary Caps

Here’s big news for school boards and superintendents: Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan  (D-Middlesex) has filed a bill that would bar the state from setting caps on superintendent salaries.  The bill has the backing of Sen. President Steve Sweeney (no longer besties with the Governor), who said, according to NJ Spotlight, that the salary cap is a “big mistake” and has "created a situation where 25 percent of the superintendents in the state are temporary.”

In 2010 then-Commissioner Bret Schundler, at  Christie's behest,  imposed salary caps based on district size. The caps run from $125K for NJ’s smallest districts to $175K for large districts.  (Here’s the specifics.)  Districts with enrollment over 10,000 students are exempt from the cap. Boards can also add merit bonuses of up to 15% of salaries based on achievement of quantitative and qualitative goals, although those bonuses have to be approved by county superintendents (who tend not to approve them).

NJ Spotlight links to Assemblyman Diegnan’s bill, A 2930. Here’s the relevant text:
The County Superintendent will  Review and approve, according to standards adopted by the commissioner, all employment contracts for superintendents of schools, assistant superintendents of schools, and school business  administrators in school districts within the county, prior to the  execution of those contracts. The review and approval of the employment contracts shall be according to standards adopted by 4 the commissioner, provided that the standards shall not include maximum salary amounts for superintendents of schools;

Christie’s original intent was to harness some out-of-control salaries (his poster child, Parsippany-Troy Hills superintendent Leroy Seitz,  made $225K per year for running a 6,000 student district) but also encourage consolidation of NJ’s 603-district infrastructure. Lots of wrath from wealthier districts on the former and no dice on the latter. Note that A 2930 also includes this:
County Superintendents will  recommend to the commissioner a school district consolidation plan to eliminate all districts, other than county-based districts and other than preschool or kindergarten through  grade 12 districts in the county, through the establishment or enlargement of regional school districts.
No one takes that seriously anymore. Not sure if anyone ever did.

How bad is NJ superintendent turnover? Pretty bad, but that predates the cap, occurring when the DOE  eliminated superintendent tenure. According to NJ School Boards Association, which studied the impact of the salary caps, while "the anecdotal evidence tells of respected education leaders making an exodus from New Jersey schools, the data finds a smaller turnover of superintendents since the regulations were put in place."

More troublesome for many NJ school districts is principal-creep. In other words, current salaries for principals and other top administrators, based on union-school board bargaining agreements, are beginning to outpace superintendent salaries, posing a quandary for some districts. Can you pay your principals or other central office staff more than your CEO? Time will tell.

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