It’s been over a year and a half since the superintendent salary cap took effect in school districts across the state. Gov. Chris Christie insisted the cap was a critical aspect of education reform in New Jersey, but now a question is if the cap has negatively affected school districts.
“It’s has definitely changed education in New Jersey, not for the better, but for the worse,” said Eva Nagy of the Franklin Township Board of Education.
Nagy is talking about the superintendent salary cap that took effect in February 2011. Superintendent contracts are capped at $175,000 for districts with up to 10,000 students.
“In terms of employment of superintendents, it has had an effect. Right now we’re seeing the largest turnover of superintendents on record,” said Deputy Executive Director of the New Jersey School Boards Association Frank Belluscio. “This past year we’ve had over 30 percent of school districts with new superintendents and a major reason has been the salary cap.”
Belluscio says districts aren’t having any difficulty finding qualified people for the positions, but the applicant experience level is lower. And Nagy insists candidates now lack the knowledge and understanding to run complex districts, especially with the number of changes in education.
“For the lower salaries, it’s very difficult to lure someone down the line who has the experience,” Nagy said. “We can’t all afford — not financially, but because of our circumstances and challenges — newbies.”
Belluscio says 10 districts have lost experienced superintendents to other states, mostly New York.
“Districts in the northern part of the state particularly Bergen and Passiac County — those school districts that border New York state — have been particularly concerned,” Belluscio said.
Vice President of Legislation/Resolution for the New Jersey School Boards Association Rosemary Bernardi thinks superintendent salaries should not be a decision made by the state.
“It’s local decisions. If your town or municipality or school district wants to actually pay them and feels that’s a value added to their school districts then yes,” Bernardi said. “If you’re local tax parties want to pay for it, then it should be your decision to do that.”
Belluscio says New Jersey’s school have been controlling administrative costs without a superintendent salary cap.
“New Jersey schools spend a lower percentage of their budgets on school and school district administration, than the majority of other states,” Belluscio said. “New Jersey ranks 41st among the states in the percentage of their current expenses that go toward school and building administration.”
The New Jersey School Boards Association says their members feel there needs to be some control in superintendent salaries but they think other factors need to be taken into account, like superintendents who take on additional responsibilities who don’t receive additional stipends for that work.
Lauren Wanko reports from Atlantic City.