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Garden State Coalition of Schools
Elisabeth Ginsburg, Executive Director
160 West State Street
Trenton, New Jersey 08608

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8-29-12 Editorial - Verdict Still Out on Supers' Pay

Herald News-The Record: Verdict still out on supers' pay... Some flexibility is needed on capping superintendent salaries

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

FIRST of all, there is nothing more important than a child’s education. That truth must be front and center of any future discussion of paying New Jersey’s top school administrators.

Things have been in upheaval on that front since Governor Christie pushed through a controversial initiative capping school superintendents’ salaries. We gave tentative support to the plan and are still willing to see it through, but we are beginning to have concerns.

The deepest of those concerns has to do with the obvious talent drain that has been going on across the state over the past two years. As reported by Staff Writers Leslie Brody and Dave Sheingold, there has been substantial turnover among North Jersey district superintendents, in particular, since the governor announced that with rare exceptions, superintendents should not make more than his own $175,000.

The effect, according to Herald News analysis, is borne out by payroll data: Almost half of the 97 North Jersey districts have cut superintendents’ pay, in one case by $76,000. Taxpayers in Bergen and Passaic counties spent roughly $900,000 less on superintendents’ pay than two years earlier, a figure that is small compared with the overall size of schools’ budgets.

The obvious downside, however, has been the loss of many capable, experienced educators in many districts that have historically been willing to spend extra to bring in the best candidate money can buy. The cap stifles that competitive spirit, in the view of some, and seeks to cast districts into a cookie-cutter mentality. Meantime, top-flight superintendents, such as former Ramsey administrator Roy Montesano, head for greener pastures. Montesano, who was New Jersey’s 2012 Superintendent of the Year, jumped to Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., at the end of last term, where this year he’ll earn $235,000 in salary and also begin drawing his pension from New Jersey.

One problem we have always had with the cap is the arbitrary way in which it was arrived at. The governor’s position is an elected one. It is temporary, and it has no correlation with a full-time superintendent, a person who has been trained for what is an arduous and time-consuming job.

We also remain troubled that the cap does not include charter school heads, or superintendents of private schools for the disabled. Then there is the obvious double standard compared to other highly paid public employees, like outgoing Rutgers University President Richard McCormick, who will be paid $335,000 when he returns to the teaching ranks, nearly double the average $175,000 salary of Rutgers’ highest-ranking faculty. Finally, as the New Jersey School Boards Association argues, the 2 percent cap on property tax increases already curbs school spending, so that the limit on superintendents’ salaries is, in effect, a "cap within a cap."

Education Commissioner Chris Cerf has promised to keep tabs on the salary cap issue, and we will hold him to that promise. This out-migration of senior talent cannot continue. Perhaps one way to stem the flow now occurring is to raise the cap, or take into account regional differences in the cost of living. Another option would be to give local districts more discretion on the dispensation of bonuses.

Generally speaking, superintendents’ pay should be based on what the market will bear. New Jersey schoolchildren are competing with those in neighboring states. It makes no sense to shortchange their future by basing top administrators’ pay on something so arbitrary as the salary of the governor.

New Jersey still has some of the best public schools in the country. We want to keep it that way.

To assume this high regard for local schools occurred without the expertise of top administrators is head-in-the-sand thinking. We appreciate efforts to keep property taxes in check. In some cases, superintendents’ salaries were out of whack. In the end, we think more time is needed before we can pass final judgment on the efficacy of the governor’s $175,000 salary cap.

 


Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608
609-394-2828



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