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Elisabeth Ginsburg, Executive Director
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9-12-14 Star Ledger - Superintendent Salary Cap Is A Terrible Idea

Star Ledger - The superintendent salary cap is a terrible idea. Repeal it: Editorial… ‘Minnesota lawmakers ended up lifting a similar salary cap because their state's districts struggled to recruit good candidates. New Jersey should do so, too. Our superintendent cap is set to expire in 2016, at which point it could be renewed. But lawmakers such as Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), are pushing legislation to end it. The state Senate Education Committee has advanced her bill, but the Assembly hasn't acted. Why not? ... The measure would still have to get past the governor, of course, who's shown no sign of reversing himself. But if Christie wants to stop chasing talent from New Jersey schools, he should.

By Star-Ledger Editorial Board The Star-Ledger
on September 12, 2014 at 5:10 PM, updated September 12, 2014 at 5:13 PM

The latest evidence that Gov. Chris Christie’s salary cap for school superintendents has backfired: Not only is it chasing away good school leaders, the superintendents who do stay are easily gaming the system.

Take Harrison schools chief James Doran: As the Jersey Journal reported, he recently adopted a new title -- the district's "director of personnel" -- to avoid having to take a $84,908 pay cut under the salary cap, which hits superintendents as soon as their contracts expire.

In other words, the governor's superintendent salary cap can't even do the one thing it's supposed to: Cap superintendents' salaries.

Then there are the unintended consequences. Superintendents, especially in northern counties where the cost of living is higher, are choosing to work in New York and Pennsylvania to avoid having to take a big pay cut here. Since the cap took effect in 2011, districts have cited it as the reason for their superintendent's departure in 97 cases.

Bergen County alone has replaced 27 superintendents. Many headed to jobs out of state. Others retired rather than accept the pay cut.

Superintendent Brian Osborne left the South Orange-Maplewood school districts for a job in New Rochelle, N.Y., with a base salary of $265,000 a year. That's $87,500 more than what he could earn under the salary cap here. As many as 10 of the 43 districts in Westchester County are now being run by former New Jersey superintendents who left after Christie's cap was imposed, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Bergen County alone has replaced 27 superintendents.

Our state is losing good school leaders for what amounts to a political stunt. In a time of belt-tightening, well-paid superintendents were easy targets for the governor. Christie whipped up false hopes that cutting their pay would make a substantial difference.

But in reality, it's barely a blip. In a state that spends $25 billion a year on public schools, even the most generous calculations put the salary cap savings at a tiny fraction of 1 percent.

Meanwhile, superintendents who have left for New York are tapping their New Jersey pensions at the same time, much earlier than anticipated, instead of continuing to work in this state and contribute into the pension system. What sense does that make? And when underlings such as assistant superintendents now make more than their bosses, what incentive do they have to climb the ranks?

One might argue that all administrative salaries should be cut. But New Jersey's administrative costs are already the fifth lowest in the nation, and we have to compete with neighboring states for talent. Minnesota lawmakers ended up lifting a similar salary cap because their state's districts struggled to recruit good candidates.

New Jersey should do so, too. Our superintendent cap is set to expire in 2016, at which point it could be renewed. But lawmakers such as Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), are pushing legislation to end it. The state Senate Education Committee has advanced her bill, but the Assembly hasn't acted. Why not?

The measure would still have to get past the governor, of course, who's shown no sign of reversing himself. But if Christie wants to stop chasing talent from New Jersey schools, he should.


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