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6-13-14 Education in the News
Star Ledger Editorial - Eliminate N.J.'s superintendent salary cap

NJ Spotlight - Feds Cite NJ’s Progress In Implementing ‘Race To The Top’ Initiatives...But U.S. Department of Education report on implementation of $38M grant also cites cumbersome policies and bureaucracy

Star Ledger Editorial - Eliminate N.J.'s superintendent salary cap: Editorial

Star-Ledger Editorial Board By Star-Ledger Editorial Board The Star-Ledger
on June 13, 2014 at 6:35 AM, updated June 13, 2014 at 6:36 AM


The salary cap, in retrospect, was poor policy that should go away. If not now, then when it sunsets in two years.

First, some truth about Gov. Chris Christie’s salary cap for school superintendents: It wasn’t about cost-cutting. Christie touted the cap’s $9.8 million-a-year savings, yet had no problem holding an unneeded separate election for the U.S. Senate in 2013 — helping his own re-election weeks later — and sticking taxpayers with a bill for $12 million.

No, Christie is a wedge politician who needs opponents to battle, and New Jersey’s well-paid superintendents — many who were making more than the governor’s $175,000 salary — were easy targets.

In 2010, cutting their seemingly exorbitant paychecks seemed prudent. Across the state, teachers and educational programs were being cut, but school boards were signing superintendents to big contracts at taxpayer expense. Seventy-five percent out-earned the governor.

Ultimately, Christie ordered the limits on school administrators’ pay, based on district size, with none topping $175,000. The Star-Ledger editorial board applauded.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, we’re not so sure it was the right thing to do.

The most damaging, if unintended, consequence has been the exodus of experienced administrators, particularly from northern counties — Bergen County has replaced 27 superintendents since the cap took effect in 2011 — where the salaries and cost of living are higher, and where superintendents found open-armed school boards across the border in New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

Some might call that greedy. But how many workers would stick by a boss who targets their paychecks, not to mention the mortgages and retirement plans based on them?

Even the most generous calculations put the salary cap’s savings — in a state that spends $25 billion a year on public schools — at a tiny fraction of 1 percent.

Are those meager savings worth the price? Probably not.

On Monday, the state Senate Education Committee advanced a bill to eliminate the cap, which expires in 2016. However, its sponsor, Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), isn’t confident it will succeed. Even if the Senate approves, the Assembly hasn’t acted on an identical bill, and it would still have to get past the governor, who’s shown no sign of retreat.

The salary cap, in retrospect, was poor policy that should go away. If not now, then when it sunsets in two years.

New Jersey has lost many talented, experienced school administrators and, along the way, might have achieved some needed right-sizing of superintendent salaries. Now it’s time to relent. In Minnesota, lawmakers lifted a similar salary cap after seven years because school boards had trouble recruiting qualified administrators. New Jersey shouldn’t wait that long.



NJ Spotlight - Feds Cite NJ’s Progress In Implementing ‘Race To The Top’ Initiatives

John Mooney | JUNE 13, 2014

But U.S. Department of Education report on implementation of $38M grant also cites cumbersome policies and bureaucracy

New Jersey’s handling of the “Race to the Top” grant it received in 2012 has earned praise in a federal report, but it also cited examples of how the state’s policies have slowed school-improvement initiatives.

The U.S. Department of Education yesterday released reports on a half-dozen states that receive grants in the second year of the “Race to the Top” funding competition, including the $38 million bestowed on New Jersey.


Race to the Top Report

Overall, it said the state had made progress in putting in place the various programs promised in the state’s grant application, including the eventual implementation of the new Common Core State Standards and other accountability measures for teachers and schools.

The detailed 19-page report cited a significant narrowing of the state’s achievement gap in certain areas since the award of the grant, as measured by standardized tests.

But the report’s release coincides with ever-increasing debate over the state’s education policies. While it stayed clear of addressing the polarizing politics, the report still offered a cautionary tale of how bureaucracy can slow even the best-intentioned efforts.

For instance, the federal report cited the state’s slow public-bidding process and its effect on efforts to provide additional teacher resources, a centerpiece of its “Race to the Top” application.

The report also noted delays in hiring of curriculum experts as part of the roll-out of a model curriculum – all against tight deadlines set by the federal government.

“It is striking just how many ambitious reforms New Jersey is attempting simultaneously and how rapid the timeline for implementation is,” said Patrick McGuinn, an associate professor at Drew University who has closely followed federal education policy.

McGuinn said it was noteworthy that only half of the state’s school districts had even participated in the programs dictated by the grants.

“Clearly, (state and local) capacity issues are complicating implementation,” he said. “This is very different kind of work than they have done in the past and requires new kinds of staff, skills, and resources.”

State officials acknowledged that there have been some delays, but said significant progress has been made.

“Overall, New Jersey received a positive evaluation,” said Mike Yaple, the state Education Department’s communications director. “We faced obstacles that delayed a few programs, but since then we’ve worked to overcome those obstacles.

“In the big picture, the report acknowledges that student achievement in New Jersey is improving, the achievement gap is narrowing, and the graduation rate is increasing,” Yaple added.


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