Cap on Superintendent Salaries Could Be in Place Soon

Schundler tells county officials to start imposing new limits immediately

Just a week after Gov. Chris Christie announced a plan to put new limits on school superintendent pay, the caps may be in place even sooner than most expected.

A spokesman for state Education Commissioner Bret Schundler confirmed yesterday that Schundler told his top county officials this week that they should begin to impose the new limits immediately.

Some discretion would be provided for those new contracts already in the pipeline, said spokesman Alan Guenther, but the aim is to prevent any superintendents from trying to extend existing deals or negotiate new ones before the new limits are formally put in place.

“New contracts will be subjected to the new caps,” Guenther said. “The commissioner will not permit a last-minute wave of negotiations aimed at circumventing these new caps.”

As news spread of the edict, expected to be a formal memo released in the next few days, Schundler may already have a challenge on his hands.

The head of the state’s superintendents association last night questioned whether Schundler has such authority, saying the law requires the new rules to be still subject to public review.

“If that is indeed the case, we have a great concern that the regulations proposed would be superseding those now in place,” said Richard Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators.

Bozza said the specific guidelines have yet to even be published, let alone enacted, and he pointed to Schundler’s own press release last week that said there would be three public hearings before adoption in December.

“We understand the Governor and the commissioner have an incredible amount of authority, but that doesn’t excuse them from abiding by the law,” he said.

Christie and Schundler rocked the education establishment last week when they announced some of the nation’s toughest restrictions on pay for school superintendents, setting limits up to $175,000 — the same as the governor’s own salary — depending on the size of the district.

Superintendent salaries now average about $163,000, but go well over $200,000 in scores of districts, large and small, according to state data. By the state’s own accounting, the new limits could effectively lead to pay cuts for 70 percent of school chiefs once their existing contracts are up.

In northern New Jersey counties like Bergen, Essex and Union, virtually every superintendent would take a pay cut.

That superintendents will try to get under the wire is what has Schundler’s office worried, although Guenther said there were no specific cases as yet to cite.

And he stressed that contracts already under negotiation would be given some leeway, especially those of new hires in which the state’s county superintendents were already involved.

“It will somewhat depend on where they are in the process,” Guenther said. “Those negotiations under way will be honored.”

But he said the commissioner does have the authority to move ahead on pressing the limits for those new deals or extensions just now coming in, even as the guidelines themselves are yet to be fully developed.

The regulations “are all being created, but the county superintendents already have the authority to review and approve contracts,” he said.

But Bozza said that authority is under previous regulations in place and codified, not ones yet seen.

And already in court over those previous restrictions enacted by former Gov. Jon Corzine, Bozza last night said a legal challenge would come this time, too, with the first local superintendent denied a fair review of his or her under existing rules.

“That would be the basis for us to file suit against the county superintendent,” he said.