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NJ school groups push to have salary restrictions lifted for superintendents

Governor Chris Christie gives the State of the State Address in the Assembly Chambers at the Statehouse
Governor Chris Christie gives the State of the State Address in the Assembly Chambers at the Statehouse (Governor’s Office/Tim Larsen)

It has been a year since Gov. Chris Christie suggested raising the maximum salary of school superintendents, but in recent testimony two of the leading organizations representing district administrators called for a removal of the cap altogether.

The cap was set in 2011, with the governor proposing to raise the maximum from $175,000 to $191,500, according to a report from NJ.com.

Citing what the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association (NJPSA) called a “revolving door at the top of our educational leadership ranks,” the group said the cap has caused administrators across the state to either retire or find better paying employment in other states. As more full time superintendents leave, the NJPSA said there is more of a demand for interim leaders until their replacements can be found.

The interim tags, the NJPSA argued, “negatively impact continuity of instruction of our students and limit long-term strategic planning for a district.”

In their testimony, the NJPSA said “we would prefer to be advocating in support of the outright elimination of the cap, but are prepared to support what flexibility is offered as part of this proposal.”

Whether there is a salary cap or not, the group argued that there is already a system in place to ensure spending does not exceed the means of the districts, as the executive county superintendent can play a role in determining contracts for administrators in their area.

“Layered upon this is the 2 percent tax levy cap, which limits exclusions even further — placing a tight lid on compensation for all employees.”

“Collectively, the tax levy cap, limitation on administrative spending growth, and the Accountability Regulations render the cap unnecessary.”

Another potential issue the NJPSA cited is the cost of living differences in various parts of the state which can pose a challenge for districts looking to bring in the most qualified candidate for the role.

The New Jersey School Boards Association also provided testimony arguing that its members should be able to determine the compensation of superintendents rather than being hamstrung by the cap, which they called a “cap within a cap.”

“Our goal is to make sure that the new regulations promote responsible action and accountability but do not handcuff boards and their administrative staff with red tape, restrictions, and additional expense,” said Director Lawrence S. Feinsod.

While the increase was a good step in the process, Feinsod said, “we are disappointed that the salary cap concept would remain in effect.” He added, “The compensation package for the district’s chief education officer should be the purview of the local school board, which is responsible for the local governance of public education.”

During their testimonies, both organizations pointed to data which showed that New Jersey’s spending on administration is less than most other schools in the country.

The session on Monday was the first of three public testimony events set to be held, with others scheduled at Camden County College and at the Morris County Police and Fire Academy. The NJ.com report said the plan does not need legislative approval, and could go into effect later this year.

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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-353-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com

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