Some Legislators Work to Repeal Superintendent Salary Cap

By Briana Vannozzi

On June 30, Paul Fried’s contract as superintendent of Montville schools will end. July 1 he’ll begin work at his new job in Westchester County, New York.

“I was very happy to be here and to remain in my position and continue to move the district forward. And the only reason I looked was because of the salary cap,” said Fried.

He’s one example of roughly 100 superintendents who have quit since the mandate began in 2011. Now 10 of Westchester’s 43 districts are home to former New Jersey administrators.

“The things I’m able to do have been possible because of years of experience and I think if it was 25 to 30 years ago I would not have been as effective and I think we’re going to find ourselves with younger and younger superintendents without experience to run complicated organizations,” Fried said.

It’s the same argument being used by legislators who want to repeal the cap, which limits salaries to $175,000 — the same pay as Gov. Chris Christie.

“We are geographically located where 45 minutes to one hour, you can get to another state and so we’re losing highly qualified individuals to bordering states,” said Sen. Teresa Ruiz.

The movement appears to be gaining traction. The state Senate recently passed a bill to overturn the measure.

“If we are concerned about bad practices, we do have checks and measures and different levels of government. We have executive county superintendents who can review and school boards to review,” Ruiz said.

“We have folks here who are highly compensated. Most of these superintendents are making six figure salaries. They’re in a public pension system, they’re on track to retire with a six figure pension annually. That’s just much much better than anyone in a private sector is doing,” said Sen. Michael Doherty.

Fried oversees seven schools with roughly 4,000 students and 600 employees. His contract was signed just before the cap went into effect. He makes about $230,000 a year. He says it’s not just about money. The political climate in New Jersey played a role in his decision.

“The compliance kinds of things that we have to contend with and deal with as school administrators is, from my perspective, way beyond what I had to work with in New York,” Fried said.

“These are public employees being paid with public tax dollars making a lot more than folks in private sector that have similar responsibilities. No one in private sector has a pension these days,” Doherty said.

Those who argue in favor of ending the cap say the state focuses too much on quick fixes that end up being punitive in nature. It’s unlikely the governor would approve any such bill. If the past is any indication of the future, the Legislature will have an even tougher job trying to get an override.