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Fine Print: Assembly Bill No. 406

'Model Contract' bill would furnish template for superintendent's benefits and perks.

Synopsis: Requires school districts to use a "model contract" developed by the Commissioner of Education when hiring a superintendent of schools.

Sponsors: Assembly members Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex), Joseph Cryan (D-Union), Caroline Casagrande (R-Monmouth) and Pamela Lampittt (D-Camden).

What it means: The model contract bill, scheduled for vote by the Assembly today, is the legislature’s long-running attempt to deal with what has become a hot-button issue statewide: superintendent pay. The bill would provide a template for districts to follow in terms of the benefits and perks afforded to school chiefs.

What the bill doesn’t do: The Christie administration has gone considerably further in imposing strict salary caps on superintendents, depending on the size of their districts. The caps, ranging from $125,000 to $175,000 for the vast majority of superintendents, would generally lead to significant pay cuts. Those caps have generated considerable controversy, with the administration also threatening to block any renegotiation of contracts in the lead-up to the new caps, effective in February.

Why it’s still important: The bill was written in reaction to New Jersey’s last superintendent pay controversy, when the State Commission on Investigation found widespread abuses in added perks to superintendent contracts, including annuities, severance packages and other extra pay. That controversy came to a head with revelations of a $556,000 severance package for Keansburg superintendent Barbara Trzeszkowski. Challenged by the state, the package was reduced to less than $200,000.

And why it could make things interesting: The bill does not speak specifically to salary limits that Christie has imposed. But it says the model contract would be developed in conjunction with the state’s school boards association and the school administrators association, which have threatened to challenge the new caps in court. In addition, the bill could conflict with Christie’s salary limits in its language, which says that overall packages “shall provide that salary, benefits, and other emoluments shall not exceed those of similarly credentialed and experienced superintendents in other districts in the region with similar enrollment, academic achievement levels and challenges, and grade span.”

What’s next: A companion bill in the Senate, sponsored by state Senator Shirley Turner (D-Mercer), has yet to be heard by the Senate education committee.

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