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Controversial Caps On Superintendent Salaries Under Discussion -- Again

Today’s meeting of Joint Committee on the Public Schools will consider next steps when -- or if – pay limits for top administrators expire in 2016

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Criticism of Gov. Chris Christie’s caps on school superintendent pay has been a broken record for school chiefs and many of their board members since it was imposed three years ago.

But now the question is what happens in two years when the caps are supposed to expire.

The Joint Committee on the Public Schools is holding a hearing today in which it has invited stakeholders and others to speak about the impact of the pay limits and what happens next.

Christie imposed caps in early 2011 that limit pay to chiefs commensurate with the enrollment in their schools, from $125,000 to a ceiling at $175,000 -- his own salary -- except in the case of the state’s largest districts.

The hearing today was called by state Assemblyman David Wolfe (R-Ocean). His affiliation is worth noting, given that he’s a member of the minority party, which has been among those balking at changes to the limits. Christie and his administration have also not budged.

But Wolfe yesterday said that he wants to start the discussion on what happens once the caps expire, and if they are not extended by Christie, a prospect by no means assured.

There are a number of issues at stake, as districts consider contracts that will extend beyond the expiration date, he said.

And there are still many issues with the caps themselves, Wolfe said, including common complaints that districts are losing talented leaders to New York and Pennsylvania. Wolfe said he heard from one superintendent who moved back to being a department supervisor to loosen restrictions on his pay. And he heard of many cases where jobs have been filled with interim superintendents already collecting a pension.

“These are supposed to expire, and there are issues we need to start looking at,” Wolfe said. “We need to look at alternatives rather than just go cold on it.”

Wolfe said there may be Republican support for some at least some adjustments, and others said they saw Wolfe’s invitation a welcome start. A bill to end the caps in the Senate, sponsored by state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), advanced out of committee but without any Republican support.

Any chance of passage would need at least some GOP votes to withstand a governor’s veto.

“I think we are all hoping for bipartisan support, and this hearing may help in building a foundation for that,” said Michael Vrancik, chief lobbyist for the New Jersey School Board’s Association.

Added state Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex), the joint committee’s co-chair: “We hope we can come to some kind of bipartisan consensus in terms of next steps.”

Others slated to testify are members of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, representing superintendents, the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, and the Garden State Coalition of Schools.

Representatives of the Christie administration are not expected to testify.

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