After stringing the state along for months, the Christie administration has finally moved to amend New Jersey’s controversial caps on school superintendent pay, which could significantly loosen the current limits.
The state Department of Education released the regulations yesterday with a host of proposed rules that provide considerable flexibility to districts going forward, including vanquishing Gov. Chris Christie’s famous — some say infamous — cap of $175,000, his own salary.
Now, most districts — those with 3,000 or more students — will be able to go as high as $191,000, not including extra bonuses for merit and other considerations that could put pay over $200,000.
In addition, superintendents could see under the proposal pay going even higher to match cost-of-living increases and longevity.
“Based on feedback from school communities, we are offering greater flexibility for school districts to attract and keep quality superintendents, while still promoting fiscal efficiency,” said acting Education Commissioner Kimberley Harrington in a statement yesterday.
The amendments announced in a press release came out with far less fanfare than the press conference that Christie held six years ago. The governor, standing alongside then-state commissioner Bret Schundler, made the caps a centerpiece of his steps to restrain school spending.
But the rules — enacted unilaterally without legislative or other approval — quickly saw considerable backlash, political and otherwise. A number of legal challenges were filed, all in vain. But that did not change the fact that superintendents seeing a ceiling to their pay started a wave of either early retirements or an exodus from the state altogether.
The climax to the debate was inevitable, however, since the existing rules only carried a seven-year run that will end later this month and led to conjecture about what would happen next. Christie as recently as a month ago said he had yet to decide if he would replace or amend the existing rules.
But in fact, talks had been ongoing for the better part of the year, led by the state’s superintendents association, which had been seeking a loosening of the rules. Legislative leaders, including state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester), had also vowed to amend the rules.
Richard Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, said last night that while the amendments did not address every concern, there was notable progress.
“This is significant movement in the right direction, and our members will be appreciative of that,” Bozza said.
Bozza said there were still concerns for any state-imposed caps on salaries, which he said should be local determinations. The new rules would set limits to three broad categories based on enrollment, instead of the current six.
The latest proposal also drew cautious reaction from the state’s school boards association.
“While we appreciate movement on this issue, we are disappointed that the salary cap concept would remain in effect,” said Lawrence Feinsod, New Jersey School Boards Association executive director.
“NJSBA maintains that the superintendent salary cap is an unnecessary cap within a cap,” Feinsod said in a statement. “The compensation package for the district’s chief education officer should be the purview of the local school board, which is responsible for the local governance of public education.”
With the filing yesterday, the existing rules will remain in effect through May 2017.
The following public hearings on the proposed rules have also been scheduled: