It was Gov. Chris Christie who unilaterally instituted New Jersey’s salary limits on school superintendents, and it will likely be governor who either ends or extends them when the caps expire in 2016.
Christie yesterday wasn’t much showing his hand, first deriding educators who complain about their pay and then placing the responsibility on an unexpected source.
"There is always criticism when educators are not getting paid every nickel that they want,” Christie said at a Statehouse press conference. “That's just typical.”
Then came the accusation: “Remember, the superintendent salary cap was an idea of the New Jersey Education Association. Maybe you should go ask them."
And then he hedged some more: “When something [expires], there is always going to be a discussion about it, and I'll be a vigorous participant in it. We'll see what happens.”
But while none of that was particularly new for a governor who has stood by the pay limits since they were imposed in 2011, the NJEA comment certainly caught a few people by surprise.
The NJEA was quick to respond. “Absolutely not,” said Steve Wollmer, the union’s communications director. ”He proposed it, we opposed it, and he knows it.”
What the governor was referring to was unclear, although his limits came at roughly the same time he was pressing teachers to agree to pay freezes in the face of steep state aid cuts.
Efforts to seek fuller explanation from Christie’s office yesterday were unsuccessful.
Nonetheless, it was an odd turn in the continual fight over the caps, which limit superintendent pay based on the size of their enrollments, from $125,000 to $175,000, the governor’s own pay. (There are exceptions for the state’s 16 largest districts, all over 10,000 students, although they still need state approval.)
The complaints have come from the superintendents themselves, but also school boards and other local officials who contend they are forcing out qualified school administrators, some moving to jobs in New York and Pennsylvania.
Several efforts are underway in the Legislature to try to end the caps before the 2016 sunset date, including a bill filed by state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), chair of the Senate education committee. Still, without much Republican support, the bill hasn’t progressed beyond her committee.
The latest push has come from the Assembly, where following a hearing this week before the Joint Committee on the Public Schools, there is a move to propose a non-binding -- and bipartisan -- referendum to press the administration to at least start phasing out the caps for new contracts that will extend beyond 2016.
Yesterday, Ruiz said she was also pushing behind the scenes for some compromise, saying there could easily be safeguards against exorbitant salaries while providing districts some flexibility.
“It’s supposed to expire in 2016,” she said in an interview. “I don’t think New Jersey can afford to wait for it to expire.”
“The reason I introduced the legislation is so we could begin the conversation, and you see that is happening now.”