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9-19-12 In the News- High Rate of Superintendent Turnover, Chicago Teachers' Strike Suspended

NJ Spotlight - Room at the Top: More than Half of NJ's School Supers Are New to Their Jobs…Salary caps, retirement, a job elsewhere: what's pushing NJ's superintendents to move on?

By John Mooney, September 19, 2012 in Education|1 Comment

Another year, another torrent of turnovers at the top of New Jersey school districts, as close to a third welcome new superintendents this fall, according to the latest statistics by the state school boards association.

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More than 180 districts said goodbye to their superintendents in the past year, almost half of them retiring, according to the association. The impact was spread pretty much throughout the state: 12 superintendents retired in Monmouth County, 11 more in both Camden and Bergen

With nearly as many superintendents leaving statewide the year before, more than half of all districts have welcomed new bosses in the past two years. The school boards association said those are record highs, with some years seeing fewer than one-tenth of districts turn over.

The exact reasons for the departures are yet to be tabulated or compared with previous years, but much of the blame -- or credit, depending on the perspective -- continues to center on the state’s controversial two-year-old cap on superintendents’ salaries.

Limiting base pay in most districts to a maximum of $175,000, depending on a district's size, the caps have been hotly debated since Gov. Chris Christie unilaterally imposed them in late 2010.

That set off a number of legal challenges that continue today, including two complaints that will hear oral arguments on Thursday in Newark before the state appellate court.

The specific stories vary with the districts. A number lost their superintendents to even higher-paying posts outside the state, including Sparta and Montclair. Other supers chose to retire once their pre-cap contracts were up, possibly cutting short their careers but also protecting their pensions.

“A lot of baby boomers are starting to make choices in their careers, and when the choice is to retire or to cut their pay, they are choosing to do something else,” said Richard Bozza, the executive director of the state’s superintendents association and a leading critic of the caps.

“The most frustrating part is I meet with a fair number of superintendents even in their 40s, and they can never get a raise again and even people working around them are making more money,” he said.

But others say it has also afforded chances for new leadership at a time when districts are facing mounting pressure when it comes to budgets and performance.

“We had thought maybe it would slow down, but it certainly has not,” said Jane Kershner, director of field services for the New Jersey School Boards Association. “I think there are going to be a couple more years where we can anticipate more and more searches."

Kershner’s office conducts superintendent searches, and she said it has been involved in about 40 in the past two years. A multitude of factors come into play, some supers are simply retiring; others are moving to larger districts for greater opportunities and pay.

She added that the new crop has so far been able to deal with challenges involving student and teacher accountability.

“But I would say we are not seeing a drop-off [in talent],” she said. “We’re telling boards that they don’t need to settle.”

The caps themselves will be put to the test in the coming days and weeks, as landmark legal challenges first filed in late 2010 start to be heard.

Some decisions have been anticlimactic, including a case out of Westfield that was remanded to the state’s education commissioner, Chris Cerf, on technical grounds, Bozza said.

But the cases on the docket Thursday are two of the earliest and will test whether the state’s commissioner at the time, Rochelle Hendricks, had the legal authority to impose the caps either unilaterally or at all.

One of the contracts subject to challenge was for former Chatham superintendent James O’Neill, whose pay was limited by the state before the caps were formally in place.

Education Week - Chicago Delegates Vote to Suspend Strike

Stephen Sawchuk

Delegates to the Chicago Teachers Union tonight voted to suspend the 7-day-old strike, tentatively approving a settlement brokered last weekend with the district.

The move allows the contract to go to the membership for ratification, the final hurdle to ending a deeply divisive and contentious round of collective bargaining in the nation's third largest school district.

As a result of the delegates' vote, classes will resume in the city's public schools on Wednesday, according to numerous reports.

The strike began Sept. 10, and has affected more than 350,000 students.
The motion to suspend the strike came a day before a state court was scheduled to hear a board of education lawsuit seeking an injunction. Supported by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the suit argues that state law bars unions from bargaining over non-economic issues, such as class sizes or teacher evaluation. (Legal scholars, for their part, noted that state law charges Illinois' Education Labor Relations Board, not the courts, with overseeing such disputes.)

The vote today was hotly anticipated, and its results were in question given varied reports about the 800 delegates' reaction some of the provisions. Delegates deferred a vote last Sunday to end the strike, saying they needed more time to digest the complex agreement.

Observers attributed that delay in part to CTU's leadership, as well as to the mistrust between the union and district. The CTU has generally been successful at reinvigorating its members, and some pumped-up delegates were disappointed with the proposed deal, feeling the union could have won even more concessions.

CORE, the political party in power in CTU's leadership, "lit a match and got people energized and gave them reasons to raise their expectations, and smartly found a way to motivate them," said Robert Bruno, a professor of labor and employment relations at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

"Now you have this big mass of teachers who are energized and mobilized, for the first time in their teaching lives. I think CORE is to be given all the credit in the world for that," Bruno said. "But now that these people are feeling this way, they took Karen [Lewis] and CORE at their words, and she's experiencing some of the stress of what it means to really, really lead a rank-and-file union."
While the union did not secure everything it had fought for in negotiations—the agreement does not include mandatory class-size caps, for instance—it did succeed in maintaining step-and-lane raises based on degree and experience; preventing a merit-pay based system; securing new teaching and counseling positions; and winning laid-off teachers a place in rehiring pools.

The following are among the specific elements in the agreement mad last weekend between the union and the district:

• Teachers' salaries will increase by 3 percent in the first year of a new contract and by 2 percent in each of the succeeding two years, in addition to step-and-lane increases for experience and for holding advanced degrees.
• Measures of student-achievement growth will count for the minimum 30 percent in teacher evaluations, as required under state law, though the district and union could jointly agree to a higher threshold in later years. Teachers will also be able to appeal their ratings.
• In the first year of implementation, the teacher-evaluation system will not carry consequences.
• Principals will have to hire staff from a new "hiring pool" for teachers that will include at least half laid-off and half new teachers. Teachers displaced because of school closures will be permitted to follow their students to other schools.
• The district will hire approximately 600 additional teachers for arts and enrichment classes.
• The school year will be lengthened by 10 days.
• The contract will last for three years, unless the two parties agree to extend it to a fourth.


Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608