Christie Moves to Block School Districts from Circumventing His Caps

Do school boards have to honor salary caps that won't go into effect until February?

While Gov. Chris Christie has made noise about demanding new salary caps for school superintendents, Englewood is reportedly negotiating a salary for its new superintendent of around $200,000. Somerville hired a new one at $175,000. Both exceed the caps for comparably sized districts.

But since Christie’s caps must go through the review process and would not be effective until February, that has left local school boards — and the Christie administration — with the quandary of what to do until then.

No Last-Minute Rush

Christie this week said that acting Education Commissioner Rochelle Hendricks has informed districts that she would not allow a last-minute rush to renegotiate contracts before the new caps take place.

“The acting commissioner is on top of the issue and communicating on a regular basis with county superintendents about any attempt by school districts to take action that would circumvent the cap,” Christie said in a press conference Wednesday.

“We anticipated that issue, and Rochelle has spoken with county superintendents in a very direct way about their very careful review of any contracts that are up for renewal that had not reached termination.”

Circumventing the Caps

But Christie said that new contracts that are negotiated in the meantime – for either new superintendents or rehired ones — would not fall under the new caps. However, he added a caveat that the public may think otherwise.

“If a school board wants to negotiate a larger salary, I guess that is their right to do,” he said. “But they would have to render that with the reaction of constituents, where some people might say they are trying to circumvent the cap.”

The school boards association currently has 13 superintendent searches underway, from Bridgeton in Cumberland County to Wyckoff in Bergen County. Its spokesman said the caps loom large.

“There is certainly a lot of talk, a lot of concern, and a lot of questions,” said spokesman Michael Yaple.

Yaple said the association has yet to take a position on the new caps, which were posted for review last week and will see three public hearings this month and next. He said the boards themselves have no financial stake in the rules.

“Their role is to find effective leaders with the resources they have,” he said. “There is a concern there could be a large number of retirements, or other states would take away our talent. High administrative pay is not an issue unique to New Jersey.”