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2-10-15 Salary Caps bill Voted Out of Senate Budget Committee

NJ Spotlight - Superintendent Salary Cap Back in Limelight -- As Clock Counts Down…As limits on top school administrators' pay near expiration in 2016, stalled Senate bill draws new attention as it's voted out of committee   “…Yesterday, the state’s leading school groups testified in favor of the bill, saying it was time to end the limits.

“What we have seen is quite a bit of turnover of really fine education leaders who are still at the prime of their service but moving on because of the [caps],” said Lynne Strickland, director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools.

“This has been in place for five years, and if people were looking for a reset in the salary levels, that has occurred,” she testified. “It is time to acknowledge that we need to move ahead in a more positive stable direction for education leadership...”


John Mooney | February 10, 2015


Backed by the Democratic leadership, a bill that would effectively end Gov. Chris Christie’s controversial caps on school superintendent salaries has suddenly come to life in the Senate -- but whether it will ever become law remains very much in question.

Stalled since last summer, the bill sponsored by state Sens. Teresa Ruiz (D-Bergen) and Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen), chairs of the Senate’s education and budget committees, respectively, was approved by the budget committee yesterday by an 8-2 vote.

Related Links

Education Committee's Statement on Senate Bill 1987

Fiscal Analysis of Senate Bill 1987

Among the measure's supporters was Senate President Steve Sweeney, and the next step is all-but-certain passage in the Senate. A companion bill is pending in the Assembly.

The dissent came from the Republican side of the aisle, indicating a veto-proof vote will be difficult to attain. And with the salary caps up for renewal or possible modification in November 2016, when they expire, there was no certainty that much would happen before then. Christie has given no indication that he would go along with a repeal.

The bill would specifically prohibit the state from setting maximums on superintendent pay.

State Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) led the dissent in the committee hearing yesterday, saying the abuses in pay that prompted the caps in the first place five years ago were still possible and moving back to what she called the “free agent” system of the past would be a mistake.

“I have a some real concerns about quickly reversing the clock here,” Beck said.

“I think the cap is imperfect and problematic, especially because those who work for the superintendent can now earn more than the superintendent,” she said. “But I think simply rolling it back and saying let’s let school districts do what they will is also not a great approach.”

The supporters of the bill said that safeguards could be put in place to prevent potential abuses in the future -- and some already were, including rules that require the state department of education to sign off on all new contracts.

“That was a very long time ago,” said Ruiz of the abuses. “I think the state a lot of time can take a real quick approach to dealing with a problem in the short term, and we don’t look at the long-term impact and the unintended consequences.”

She said she would support specific prohibitions on compensation for housing and other ancillary costs, but setting specific salary limits was beyond the state’s role.

“If we are going to start legislating caps for professionals in this state, lets start with the presidents of universities and public hospitals and everyone on down,” Ruiz said.

This is sort of back and forth that is sure to come on an issue that the Legislature largely ignored for the past few years but now is delving into again.

The caps have been the bane of many districts, or at least their superintendents, since they were unilaterally put in place in late 2010. Setting pay limits based on enrollment, topping out at $175,000, the caps have been blamed by districts for driving away experienced school leaders.

In a handful of cases, superintendents whose contracts have come up for renewal have left New Jersey to take similar jobs across the border in New York and Pennsylvania, which face no such limits.

Yesterday, the state’s leading school groups testified in favor of the bill, saying it was time to end the limits.

“What we have seen is quite a bit of turnover of really fine education leaders who are still at the prime of their service but moving on because of the [caps],” said Lynne Strickland, director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools.

“This has been in place for five years, and if people were looking for a reset in the salary levels, that has occurred,” she testified. “It is time to acknowledge that we need to move ahead in a more positive stable direction for education leadership.”

Others said the attention given to superintendent pay statewide has significantly increased in the years since the regulations were put in place, and the time of hidden compensation was past.

“Really, you can’t have a runaway train anymore in giving out these contracts,” said Melanie Schulz, lobbyist for the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, which represents superintendents.

Meanwhile, the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services released a fiscal analysis of the bill that said superintendents still over the pay limits under previous contracts would amount to annual savings of nearly $2 million if they fell back to cap levels.


The Record - Legislation repealing cap on superintendent salaries passes state Senate panel

February 9, 2015, 8:47 PM    Last updated: Monday, February 9, 2015, 10:31 PM



The Record

A bill to repeal a superintendent salary cap that critics say has driven talent to other states was approved Monday by the state Senate Budget Committee, and legislators hope to have it delivered to the governor’s desk by June.

But questions remain over whether Governor Christie would support rolling back the cap or if he will wait for it to expire in 2016. Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan Jr., D-Middlesex, said the bill was gaining momentum with the vote on Monday and with strong support from school boards, principals and parents.

“We could have it on the floor for a vote in session in May or June,” said Diegnan, chairman of the Assembly Education Committee. “Hopefully, we have the bill in before we adjourn. This is when those negotiations are ongoing, so really the timing is perfect.”

Diegnan said he expected a corresponding bill in the Assembly to be released from the Education Committee now that the Senate has acted.

On Monday, the Senate budget committee passed the bill 8-2, with the dissenting votes coming from the two Republicans. The bill still must be voted upon by the whole Senate, and pass committee and full votes in the state Assembly before it reaches Christie’s desk. A spokesman for the governor said he could not comment on a bill that’s under consideration.

But the administration has plans to review the cap because it will sunset in November 2016. Any proposed changes would be introduced about six months to a year beforehand, said Department of Education spokesman Michael Yaple.

Education Commissioner David Hespe said at a Senate hearing in December that the administration would consider concerns about the impact of the cap, especially about the number of years that superintendents stay and whether that has changed dramatically.

With a few exceptions for big cities, a district’s chief can no longer earn more than the governor’s $175,000 salary in base pay under the cap. The bill that’s being considered would roll back the cap and bar the Department of Education from imposing a new one.

Christie capped salaries five years ago to put an end to rising salaries and perks that were viewed as a driver of high property taxes. He limited salaries according to a district’s size, so small districts that were once appealing to top candidates — including many in Bergen County — have been hit hard as superintendents retired, left for New York and Pennsylvania, or moved on to other professions.

Supporters say the time is right to overturn the cap because it has ended abuses and because other spending controls are now in place to keep salaries from spiking again.

“It stopped bad actors from getting over on school boards, so the administration was successful,” said Paul Sarlo, D-Wood-Ridge, who co-sponsored the bill. “But now we have protection in place with the 2 percent cap [on budget increases] so that will not happen again.”

He added, “The administration should sign the bill and declare it a victory.”

Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Newark, also a co-sponsor, said she had heard stories “across the board” about superintendents leaving too soon and that the state needed to address the long-term impact that the cap is having.

“It’s time to review the policy and take a look at it,” she said. “If we need to do something to make sure we don’t have egregious contracts again in the state, that’s something we can work on together and that, I think, everyone will support.”

The bill has support from education groups, including the New Jersey School Boards Association, the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, and the Garden State Coalition of Schools — which all spoke in support of the measure Monday.

Jennifer Keyes-Maloney of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association said the “best and brightest” were turning down leadership roles as schools face new teacher evaluations and more rigorous academic standards.

“We are in a time of change and a change that requires strong leadership at the superintendent level,” she said.

In addition to the 2 percent spending cap, supporters also noted that county executive superintendents must review the districts’ contracts and can check that they’re reasonable.

Superintendent salaries had risen, on average, 46 percent or $100 million between 2001 and 2010, according to the governor’s office.

In findings, the Office of Legislative Services said it wasn’t possible to estimate the financial impact of the plan, but noted that when the cap was proposed, the Education Department said it could lower total salaries by $9.8 million.

School leaders across North Jersey say they want the cap overturned — even before it expires in 2016 — because their districts are in flux as they try to recruit and keep strong leaders. Right now, many schools in Bergen County are led by interim superintendents, who can serve up to two years.

William Ronzitti, Saddle River’s interim superintendent, said lifting the cap “would be a tremendous relief to the field.”

Ronzitti retired from Florham Park in July 2013 because his contract was up and a new one would have been subject to the salary cap. He said he would have stayed for at least one more three- to five-year contract had the cap not been imposed.

“A lot of superintendents have retired early,” he said, adding that the caps have deprived school districts of talent and experience that will take a long time to develop.

“There isn’t even the provision of a cost-of-living increase,” Ronzitti said.

Michael Osnato, a former Montclair superintendent who now runs a superintendent search firm, said the bill’s passage was a “good step in the right direction.”

Osnato, who has placed about two dozen superintendents in Bergen County, said that since the cap took effect, superintendents have been looking outside New Jersey for work and prospective candidates are hesitant to look at superintendent jobs because of the pay restrictions.

“A lot of people in the business are going to be pleased anything is being done,” he said.

Staff Writer Allison Pries contributed to this report. Email: adely@northjersey.com

Star Ledger - Is it time to repeal N.J. superintendent salary cap? Lawmakers tackle question

By Adam Clark | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com 
Email the author | Follow on Twitter 
on February 09, 2015 at 6:28 PM, updated February 10, 2015 at 7:14 AM

The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee approved a bill (S1987) that wouldforbid the state Department of Education from setting maximum salaries for superintendents of schools, which have been capped since 2011 by Gov. Chris Christie.TRENTON — New Jersey's salary cap on school superintendents' pay has outlasted its unsefulness, state Senators said Monday as they pushed for its repeal.

"I think that the state of New Jersey often times can take a real quick approach to dealing with a problem in a short term manner, and we don't look at the long-term impact on unintended consequences," Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) said.

Ruiz, a cosponsor of the bill, blamed the cap for an exodus of New Jersey superintendents to other states, like New York and Pennsylvania, where they can make more money. Assistant superintendents who are the natural successors to fill vacant superintendent positions now have no incentive to take over, she said.

"It's time to end the salary cap," Ruiz said.

The salary cap ranges from $125,000 to $175,000, depending on the size of the school district. Superintendents of certain schools, like charter schools and technical schools, are exempt.

Ruiz and committee chair Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen), another cosponsor, conceded that the cap did serve a purpose when Christie implemented it. At that time, some superintendents were making more than $200,000 and had additional compensation, like car allowances, leading Christie to say the cap was necessary.

"A lot of good came out of the initial cap in place," Sarlo said. "I am not criticizing the initial reaction."

Nearly 100 New Jersey superintendents who had left their jobs as of February 2014 cited the salary cap as a factor, according to a survey of districts conducted last year by the New Jersey School Board's Association. Christie has used that same survey to argue the salary cap has not resulted in a mass exodus. Overall, 456 superintendents left their jobs in the three years before the cap was instituted compared to 400 in the three years after, according to the survey.

But the rise of interim superintendents and the departure of mid-career superintendents in New Jersey have led to calls for the cap to be repealed. Districts need long-term leaders in place, Sarlo said.

Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monouth) voted against the bill, though she said the cap is imperfect. Beck said she does not yet feel comfortable returning superintendent pay decisions to the local boards.

"The abuse was rampant and I think volunteers that serve on local school boards were really oblivious to the very generous packages that were being provided to the leadership," she said.

The vote passed out of the Senate Budget Committee and now goes to the Senate floor for a full vote. The current policy sunsets in 2016.


NJ Spotlight - Explainer: How the State Holds Superintendent Pay to $175,000 Per Year…Are salary caps driving the best school chiefs out of state? The numbers say that might be a mistaken impression

John Mooney | February 10, 2015


What it is: Gov. Chris Christie in 2010 imposed through regulation new limits on superintendent pay, topping it at $175,000 for K-12 districts of 6,500 students or more. What has ensued in the past five years has been among the most hard-fought education battles in the state.

Why it matters: The regulations were enacted in the wake of reports of exorbitant pay for some superintendents, including a host of stipends and other extra compensation that in some cases took overall pay over $500,000 a year. But the limits have seen the pendulum swing the other way, with superintendents paid in the low $200,000s leaving their jobs early or facing the potential of steep pay cuts.

Related Links

Salary Cap Regulation

SCI Report: Taxpayers Beware

Senate Bill S-1987

NJ School Boards Association Report on the Impact of Salary Caps

Quote in 2010: “This is a new day for superintendent pay in New Jersey,” Christie said in announcing the caps in 2010. “Everyone knows this is right to do, but people are afraid to take the first step. New Jersey is no longer afraid.”

Where it stands now: After four years of silence on this issue, the Democratic-led legislature is moving to repeal the regulations. But it is sure to face pushback from Christie and members of his administration who maintain the limits remain necessary to rein in high pay.

Christie quote now: “There is always criticism when educators are not getting paid every nickel that they want,” Christie said last year at a press conference. “That's just typical.”

The pay scale: Under the regulations, pay depends on the size of the district, topping out at the governor’s own salary of $175,000.

Here's the breakdown:

·         0 – 250 students: $125,000

·         251 – 750 students: $135,000

·         751 -1,500 students: $145,000

·         1,501 – 3,000 students: $155,000

·         3,001 – 6,500 students: $165,000

·         6,501 – 9,999 students: $175,000

The exceptions: The regulations provide extra stipends for districts with high schools, and also performance bonuses of up to 15 percent. They also permit the commissioner of education to give waivers to exceed the maximum salary for districts of 10,000 or more students. There are 16 of those districts in all, including the four operated by the state. The highest pay is $251,500 for Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson.

The other exceptions: The rules do not apply to vocational school districts or to special-service or jointure districts that serve students with disabilities. The law also does not apply to charter schools.

The impact: A lot of attention has gone to school leaders who have left the state due to the caps, including two who had been named New Jersey’s superintendent of the year. The state’s school boards association did its own survey of the impact of the law and found the cap has spurred turnover but overall more had left their jobs before the caps than after.

The courts sit out: The regulations have been challenged numerous times by superintendents, districts, and their associations, with the court each time saying the state has the right to set limits. Among the most notable was a decision in 2012 by the state appellate court that found the regulations consistent with state law seeking to tighten oversight of school spending. “The effect is wholly consistent with the Legislature's primary goal in providing oversight of school district spending and not inconsistent with the [local] board's statutory authority to fix salary,” the court ruled.

The Legislature steps in: A bill is now moving through the Senate that would effectively repeal the regulations by prohibiting the state from setting maximum salaries for school administrators. While backed by the Democratic leadership, there has been no indication that Christie or the Republican minority would go along with it.


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