NJ Loses Superintendent of Year to NY

Cap on pay has superintendents considering their options -- and sometimes moving on

Roy Montesano, Superintendent of the Year
A month after being honored on the floor of the state Senate, New Jersey’s school superintendent of the year is headed to New York, another consequence of the Christie administration’s cap on school administration salaries.

Roy Montesano, the superintendent of Ramsey schools, was expected to be formally approved last night as the next superintendent in Hastings, NY, right over the Tappan Zee Bridge. The district put out a release last week announcing the hire.

Montesano, a 30-plus year educator in New Jersey schools, yesterday was careful to say the caps didn’t force him over the border, but he said they were certainly a factor in his decision to leave the state.

“With what is coming out of Trenton, it is forcing some of us to consider other options,” Montesano said in an interview. “It has opened us up to other opportunities.”

In Hastings, he will earn $235,000, according to the New York district. In Ramsey, Montesano now makes $226,000, he said, but under the new salary caps, that would have gone down to $167,500 when his current contract expires in two years.

Montesano, part of a family of four brothers who were each New Jersey superintendents, said the prospect of a 30-percent pay cut with a child off to college was difficult to manage. “The math doesn’t add up well,” he said.

He’s not the only superintendent to depart. Montesano’s brother Jim also left New Jersey schools, where he was last the superintendent in Paramus, to become superintendent in Nyack, N.Y. And New Jersey superintendents are retiring or leaving the state at nearly double the rate since the caps were put in place at the start of last year. “I’m sure there will be more of us,” Montesano said.

Christie and state officials have said that is not a bad thing, controlling administrative costs that some said were getting out of control and bringing in new people with fresh ideas to school leadership.

The caps, imposed through regulation and without legislative approval, set salaries for top school officials depending on the size of the district. The top scale for those in districts with between 5,000-10,000 students is $175,000, the governor’s salary, and the number goes down to as low as $135,000 for the smallest districts. The dozen very largest districts like Newark, Paterson, and Jersey City are the only ones that can exceed the caps, but only with the commissioner’s approval.

Ramsey has a little more than 3,000 students, where the top pay once Montesano’s contract expired would be $165,000, plus $2,500 for districts with high schools. Under the caps, superintendents are also entitled to performance bonuses of up to 15 percent, but those do not apply toward their pensions.

Since even before they were put in place, the caps have been challenged in court in a smattering of cases, all still winding their way through the process. A challenge by the association that represents the state superintendents, for instance, is not yet scheduled for arguments in the NJ appellate court.

“It is still hanging out there, and it may be for a while,” said Richard Bozza, the association’s executive director. “I’m hoping we can move this along.”

Bozza pointed out that an appeal in the association’s challenge of previous limitations on administrative compensation, enacted by former Gov. Jon Corzine, was only heard by the state Supreme Court last week.