Superintendent Salary Caps Under Review, Public Hearings in January

By David Cruz

The superintendent salary caps were never popular, not among school administrators, who felt like they were being singled out for frequently bloated school budgets, and not by lawmakers, who, although they went along with the governor in 2011, warned of an exodus of top administrators leaving Jersey for New York and Pennsylvania. Richard Bozza, the executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, says the brain drain is real.

“In the last five years, we’ve gone through changes in at least half the superintendents in the state,” he said. “You know, we run an induction program for new superintendents, we had about 130 people in that program. This year we have 70 to 80, so just in that two-year period, when there are about 540 superintendents, you can see there’s been dramatic turnover.”

Because, says Bozza, in many cases, superintendents were having to actually take a pay cut.

“What happened was, and I don’t think most people realize this, for a significant portion of school superintendents it wasn’t a cap,” he added. “When their contract ended, it was a significant reduction for many of those people. They were brought down to a level of the caps in a new contract.”

Former East Hanover Superintendent Joseph Ricca’s is one of them. “You know there comes a place in time where you have to make a decision based on the best interests of your family,” he said. “I have to tell you, at 35 years old, looking towards a $35,000 pay cut when I had a baby on the way, you know, that wasn’t a very good business decision. If you’re high performing high school principal or assistant superintendent what incentive is there for you to become a superintendent of schools right now?”

The state Department of Education has announced revisions to the plan now, to give districts more flexibility, they say, acknowledging the hardships the policy created but still, they say, promoting fiscal efficiency.

The new plan shrinks the number of categories from six, with a max salary for the largest district of $175,000 to three categories with a max salary of just over $191,000 for the largest districts.

But, there are exceptions. The top five superintendent salaries are all over the $191,000 max.

That’s because there are exceptions, at the discretion of the state education commissioner, who, we’re told, couldn’t talk to us and wouldn’t make anyone else available to us either. The new rules will be the subject of public hearings in January.