Fine Print: Bill Would Eliminate Caps on Superintendent Salaries

Legislation targets $175,000 limit that’s been hailed for fiscal prudence, blamed in part for exodus of administrators

State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex)
What it is: A bill sponsored by state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) that would end the Christie administration’s controversial limits on superintendent pay will be heard on Monday in the Senate Education Committee.

What it means: As the influential chair of the committee. Ruiz’s sponsorship of the bill is a big step in the growing legislative pushback on the salary caps that limit the salaries of school leaders, depending on district enrollments, to no more than $175,000. The caps, instituted by regulations in 2011, have been blamed for an exodus of veteran superintendents in the state.

Simple language: The bill proposes an amendment to statute that lays out the role of the county executive superintendents in reviewing administrative contracts. The county officials have been at the center of the debate over the caps, serving as the Christie administration’s enforcers. The new language prohibits them from considering maximum salary limits and explicitly says the state Department of Education shall not set such limits.

Companion bill: An identical bill sits in the Assembly, sponsored by state Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan Jr., the chair of the Assembly’s education committee. That bill has yet to be posted in committee.

Powerful friends: The Senate bill has the apparent support of Senate President Steve Sweeney, who has repeatedly said the caps should be repealed and this spring called them a “big mistake.” Yesterday, state Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen), chairman of the Senate budget committee, added his name as a prime sponsor.

Powerful foe: While there is some sentiment for ending the caps among Republicans, it is unlikely to win support for the one Republican who counts most, Gov. Chris Christie.

Another route: The regulations “sunset,” or expire, in February 2016, and would need the administration’s renewal. There is some conjecture that both sides could agree to let the rules just run their course for another year.

In the meantime: Superintendents are still leaving, and the salary caps are certainly still a contributing factor. The latest to make a move to a neighboring state where there are no caps is Brian Osborne, who announced this week that he is leaving as superintendent in South Orange-Maplewood to lead the public schools in New Rochelle, NY.