Salary Cap Causes Some NJ Superintendents to Quit

By Brenda Flanagan

Jim Crisfield will start packing up his office next week — when the superintendent leaves his job in Millburn for a new position in Pennsylvania. Crisfield currently earns almost $220,000 a year, but his old contract expires soon, and the state-mandated salary cap would chop about $50,000 off his income if he stayed in Millburn. He resigned.

“I’m 51 years old so I have a few more years left in the tank and it was more of an economic decision on my part that it’d be the wrong thing to do for my family to accept such a cut,” he said.

Crisfield’s the latest in a steady stream of superintendents fleeing salary restrictions. In fact, almost 100 have quit their Jersey jobs because of the salary cap since it was imposed four years ago, according to the New Jersey School Boards Association. They’re outward bound.

“What we’re seeing is a lot of frustration certainly on the part of superintendents, and those who are able to leave to change their circumstances are unfortunately and many times, regrettably, doing so,” said New Jersey Association of School Administrators Executive Director Richard Bozza.

The Wall Street Journal reports, “…10 of the 43 districts in New York’s Westchester County are now run by former New Jersey superintendents who left after Gov. Chris Christie imposed the salary cap in February 2011…” when he said, “They cannot be sitting here saying that they’re some special privileged class of folks who deserve to make that kind of money when everybody else in this state is tightening their belt and making do with less. So we said OK, we’re going to cap pay at $175,000 here because that’s what the governor makes.”

The cap ranges from $125,000 to $175,000, although that doesn’t apply to New Jersey’s largest school districts — including Newark, where Christie’s hand-picked Superintendent Cami Anderson started at over $247,000 and just signed a new contract for more than $251,000. At the local level, districts can’t offer even the best, highest-achieving superintendents base salaries over the cap.

“I refuse to believe that people didn’t see this effect coming, that by putting a cap on, that leaders would go elsewhere,” Crisfield said.

“Because of our geographic location, it’s very easy for a highly qualified individual to travel 40 minutes and go into a bordering state and get compensation for their experience,” said Sen. Teresa Ruiz.

Senate Education Committee chair Ruiz is co-sponsoring a bill to repeal the salary cap before it sunsets in 2016. Instead of a cap, she says, county superintendents can oversee new contracts and refuse to approve anything ridiculously over-the-top.

Her Republican colleague Jennifer Beck’s open to tweaking the formula, but says times are hard.

“I object to the thought that we should just have this limitless pot of money to support superintendents’ salaries,” Beck said. “The bottom line is, there’s a balance between what we can afford to pay as taxpayers in this state and what people want.”

Crisfield leaves Feb. 27.

“I always figured this would be my last career stop. This is a great place to work. I’m certainly sad to leave my home in Summit, yeah,” he said.

Any bill to repeal the salary cap would need enough votes to override the expected veto from Gov. Christie. Proponents admit that’s highly unlikely but say at least they can get a conversation going.