Spotlight: Superintendent Leader

The head of New Jersey’s association of school superintendents, when Richard Bozza says he relishes challenges and unpredictability he’s talking about his golf game

Richard Bozza

Title: Executive Director, New Jersey Association of School Administrators

Age: 60

Why he matters: Bozza leads the state’s 1,000-member association of school superintendents and other top administrators, a group under siege these days as Gov. Chris Christie puts in place new limits on salaries, capping them at $175,000 for most districts, depending on enrollment. That comes on top of new 2 percent property tax caps on school districts and severe cuts in state aid, all leaving the superintendents – and their leaders — with some of their biggest challenges in decades.

How he got into this fix: Bozza started as a Spanish teacher in Long Branch, moving up the career ladder to eventually serve as superintendent in Montville and Berkeley Heights.

Where he learned a foreign language of a different sort: Bozza also served as superintendent of the state’s Katzenbach School for the Deaf, at the time about 400 students, half of them residential. He called it one of the most challenging and rewarding jobs of his life, since he lived on the campus as well. “I was the one who was communications handicapped, and didn’t know how to sign. I thought I knew a lot about language, but I learned a lot more there.”

Not the best timing After a stint running the Academy for Teaching and Learning in Far Hills, Bozza in 2007 was named head of the NJASA, the organization that not only lobbies for administrators interests but also leads training and other advocacy for school leaders. But in his first year, a scathing state investigative report exposed abuses and waste in superintendent compensation, like sick pay and severance. The next year, new limits were placed on that compensation, and this year comes the aid cuts and salary caps. “What, is this a sanity test?”

Are superintendents overpaid? Bozza is quick to cite a 2007 study that found New Jersey superintendents earned slightly less than the $154,000 average in the northeast and mid-Atlantic. It’s now about $163,000. “New Jersey’s superintendents are paid on par or less than other superintendents in the region.”

But what about those $200,000-plus salaries for superintendents of tiny districts? “It may not be appropriate, but we need to look at the factors that go into them. I’m not saying we shouldn’t look at all this. But shouldn’t it be with practical outcomes and research?”

A close call: Bozza was said to be on the short list to be Christie’s education commissioner and was ultimately passed over for Bret Schundler. He also served on Christie’s transition committee for education, one that incidentally didn’t propose a cap on superintendent salaries. So, what if he was chosen for the job? “I’d rather stay away from that topic. There’s nothing I would say that would help.”

There’s always golf: A big golfer, with a “decent” handicap of 12, Bozza enjoys the challenge and unpredictability of the game.“Unfortunately, my job is getting more predictable.”

Hometown: Montville, where he lives with his wife Jeanne, a middle school teacher in town. They have four grown children and a new grandson.