School administrators’ salaries in New Jersey rose less than the typical teacher's pay over the past two years, and increases should level off for the foreseeable future as state-mandated caps on superintendents’ earnings kick in.
An analysis of the New Jersey Department of Education’s certificated staff databases found that the average school professional whose primary duties are administrative earned $118,172 in 2011-2012, up just $31 over the prior year and a gain of less than 4 percent from 2009-2010.
Those are salaries for superintendents, principals, business administrators, their assistants, and other administrators, including curriculum and subject supervisors. They do not include any additional pay for unused time off or for declining health insurance.
The average New Jersey superintendent earned $153,323 last year, but the chief administrator’s salary topped out at $268,200, which went to Charles Epps, the superintendent of Jersey City, the state’s second-largest district, with more than 27,000 students.
Epps was one of 120 district heads paid more than $190,000. That group should drop to fewer than 30 as multiyear contracts expire and are renegotiated. The caps -- which were put in place in 2011 -- only go into effect when a contract expires.
At that time, more than 70 percent of superintendents were exceeding the cap, which sets maximum salaries based on district size. These range from $125,000 for a district of 250 or fewer students to $175,000 for districts of 6,501 to 10,000 students.
State rules enable administrators to boost their salaries in several ways. For instance, they earn an extra $10,000 for each additional district they oversee. Another $2,500 is tacked on for any district that includes a high school.
Vocational and special-service district leaders can earn more. And the state education commissioner can waive the cap entirely for districts with more than 10,000 students. New Jersey has 15 of those. Richard Vespucci, a department spokesman, said the commissioner has approved seven or eight such waivers to date.
Currently, neither the state education department, nor the associations representing school boards and administrators can say how many superintendents are still earning more than the maximum salary, because a number of multiyear contracts are still in place.
The caps are definitely controversial. The New Jersey Association of School Administrators is embroiled in five caps-related lawsuits, said spokeswoman Anne Gallagher.
The highest-profile case is probably the one that involves LeRoy Seitz, Parsippany’s superintendent.
Shortly after Gov. Chris Christie called for the caps, Parsippany agreed to renew Seitz’s contract and pay him $212,000, more than $30,000 above the maximum. That prompted the governor to call Seitz a “poster boy” for greed. After more than a year of flux and controversy, Parsippany gave Seitz a contract for $177,500. Each side is countersuing the other.
Representatives of school boards and superintendents predicted that the caps would drive away a number of supers, and Richard Bozza, head of the NJASA, says that is exactly what is happening.
“It’s not working out too well,” Bozza said late last month on WOR News' John Gambling Show. “In the North Jersey area, we have a lot of high-profile, well-regarded superintendents fleeing the border into New York.”
No group has analyzed if any superintendents have retired due to the caps. An evaluation of three years of DOE data shows that of 600 chief school administrators listed for 2011-2012, only half held their position for all three years. The other half had been hired in 2010-2011 or 2011-2012.
“As those positions turn over we have everyone else around the superintendent earning more money,” Bozza said. “I think we have to relook at that policy. It is the only position in the state where we have that kind of cap.”