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Elisabeth Ginsburg, Executive Director
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2-11-15 'Rescind Christie's salary cap on superintendents'

Star Ledger - Rescind Christie's salary cap on superintendents | Editorial By Star-Ledger Editorial Board on February 11, 2015 at 7:30 AM, updated February 11, 2015 at 10:49 AM During Gov. Chris Christie's first few years in office, he took several constructive steps to contain public spending, most of them sensible. Union benefits were scaled back. The rules for settling contract disputes, long tilted in favor of unions, were rewritten with taxpayer in mind. A property tax cap forced town and school officials to cut waste. So far, so good. But the cap on superintendent salaries was a big mistake that has led to all kinds of crazy and unintended consequences. Good superintendents faced big pay cuts once their contracts came up for renewal. As feared, many of them are hopping the borders to Westchester County and the Philadelphia suburbs, where they can sometimes earn $50,000 more. Recruiters tell school boards that they could not lure the best candidates to fill openings. Within districts, it is even crazier. Assistant superintendents, who face no cap, sometimes earn more than their bosses. In small districts, where the cap is set at just $125,000, salaries for senior teachers sometimes come close. And for what? The governor's office estimated the savings at about $10 million a year. In a state that spends more than $25 billion on its public school system, that is a less than a drop in the bucket. The cap is a symbolic move, but it's doing real damage. That's why virtually every organization that deals with education issues in the state think it's time to repeal this cap now, even before it is scheduled to expire in 2016. The co-sponsor of the repeal is Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), the chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee who earned her cred by sponsoring tenure reform. It ignores the fact that the labor market is regional, and New Jersey has to compete with its neighbors. In 2010, when he proposed this cap, the governor was offended by some of the generous contracts he encountered as he fought to contain public costs. A 2008 study by the New Jersey Association of School Administrators found the average superintendent salary was $154,000, slightly higher than in New York and Connecticut, and that didn't include the lush benefits that often came with the job. In wealthy Jersey suburbs, salaries often went well above $200,000. Christie proposed a series of caps based on district size, from $125,000 to $175,000. He exempted a handful of the largest districts, like Newark and Jersey City But why cap superintendent salaries in particular? What about administrators at Rutgers and other public universities, or even the coaches, who often earn much more? What about the governor's own patronage appointees at the Port Authority? Or police chief? Or fire chiefs? And why should Trenton big-foot what has always been a local decision? The truth is this was always about politics. Christie is a wedge politician, and overfed superintendents made for a juicy target that would puff up his image as a cost-cutter. With the Great Recession pinching public and private budgets, it was a political winner. But it has hurt schools. It ignores the fact that the labor market is regional, and New Jersey has to compete with its neighbors. It is utopian in the way it marches past market realities. Besides, more sensible spending restraints are in place. County superintendents can reject contracts they find excessive, even without the cap. And the cap on property taxes forces districts officials to be prudent overall. They should be able to decide for themselves where to make needed cuts. A bill to repeal the cap passed a Senate committee Monday. Our hope is it reaches the governor's desk and he signs it. Follow The Star-Ledger on Twitter @starledger. Find The Star-Ledger on Facebook.

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