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Explainer: How the State Holds Superintendent Pay to $175,000 Per Year

Are salary caps driving the best school chiefs out of state? The numbers say that might be a mistaken impression


What it is: Gov. Chris Christie in 2010 imposed through regulation new limits on superintendent pay, topping it at $175,000 for K-12 districts of 6,500 students or more. What has ensued in the past five years has been among the most hard-fought education battles in the state.

Why it matters: The regulations were enacted in the wake of reports of exorbitant pay for some superintendents, including a host of stipends and other extra compensation that in some cases took overall pay over $500,000 a year. But the limits have seen the pendulum swing the other way, with superintendents paid in the low $200,000s leaving their jobs early or facing the potential of steep pay cuts.

Quote in 2010: “This is a new day for superintendent pay in New Jersey,” Christie said in announcing the caps in 2010. “Everyone knows this is right to do, but people are afraid to take the first step. New Jersey is no longer afraid.”

Where it stands now: After four years of silence on this issue, the Democratic-led legislature is moving to repeal the regulations. But it is sure to face pushback from Christie and members of his administration who maintain the limits remain necessary to rein in high pay.

Christie quote now: “There is always criticism when educators are not getting paid every nickel that they want,” Christie said last year at a press conference. “That's just typical.”

The pay scale: Under the regulations, pay depends on the size of the district, topping out at the governor’s own salary of $175,000.

Here's the breakdown:

  • 0 – 250 students: $125,000

  • 251 – 750 students: $135,000

  • 751 -1,500 students: $145,000

  • 1,501 – 3,000 students: $155,000

  • 3,001 – 6,500 students: $165,000

  • 6,501 – 9,999 students: $175,000

The exceptions: The regulations provide extra stipends for districts with high schools, and also performance bonuses of up to 15 percent. They also permit the commissioner of education to give waivers to exceed the maximum salary for districts of 10,000 or more students. There are 16 of those districts in all, including the four operated by the state. The highest pay is $251,500 for Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson.

The other exceptions: The rules do not apply to vocational school districts or to special-service or jointure districts that serve students with disabilities. The law also does not apply to charter schools.

The impact: A lot of attention has gone to school leaders who have left the state due to the caps, including two who had been named New Jersey’s superintendent of the year. The state’s school boards association did its own survey of the impact of the law and found the cap has spurred turnover but overall more had left their jobs before the caps than after.

The courts sit out: The regulations have been challenged numerous times by superintendents, districts, and their associations, with the court each time saying the state has the right to set limits. Among the most notable was a decision in 2012 by the state appellate court that found the regulations consistent with state law seeking to tighten oversight of school spending. “The effect is wholly consistent with the Legislature's primary goal in providing oversight of school district spending and not inconsistent with the [local] board's statutory authority to fix salary,” the court ruled.

The Legislature steps in: A bill is now moving through the Senate that would effectively repeal the regulations by prohibiting the state from setting maximum salaries for school administrators. While backed by the Democratic leadership, there has been no indication that Christie or the Republican minority would go along with it.

Read more in Education, Explainer
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