TRENTON – In an effort to provide school districts with the tools they need to attract and maintain highly-qualified superintendents, Senate Education Chair M. Teresa Ruiz and Senator Paul Sarlo sponsored legislation to eliminate the arbitrary caps on superintendent salaries that have resulted in dozens of school districts losing administrators. The bill was approved today by the Senate Education Committee.
“Having exceptional leadership in our school districts is so important to the successful operation of our schools. Unfortunately, we have seen dozens of superintendents leave their positions since districts lost the ability to offer compensation that is competitive with other states. This was an unintended consequence of the salary caps, and an issue that districts across the state asked that we revisit,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “This will give districts more flexibility in setting salaries so they can attract and retain great leaders in their school districts rather than losing them to nonpublic districts or to other states.”
Regulations first adopted by the State Department of Education in 2010 imposed caps on superintendent salaries linked to a district’s student population. Since then, a number of school superintendents have left their post in New Jersey for another state citing the salary cap as one of the reasons they left. The New Jersey School Boards Association 2014 report on the superintendent salary cap found that almost 40 percent of the State’s 570 operating school districts have experienced turnover, and many of these have had more than two interim superintendents over a three year period. In their report they found that 97 superintendents left because of the cap, and more than half of the districts that hired a permanent replacement hired someone that was a new superintendent.
The original intent of the salary caps was to rein in excessive compensation packages, and came after several cases were highlighted in media reports, but had severe unintentional consequences. School advocates across the board agree that the caps continue to have devastating effects on school leadership in New Jersey and school boards across the state have passed resolutions in support of eliminating the caps. The bill (S692) would prohibit the Department of Education from regulating the maximum salary amount a board of education could provide to a superintendent of schools pursuant to the employment contract.
“When it comes to the top education official in a district, we have to be able to offer compensation that will allow districts to hire the best of the best. We have seen numerous school districts lose superintendents because of the arbitrary restriction placed on salaries. In Bergen County alone, because of the high cost of living, we are seeing a ‘brain drain’ – it seems like we have more interim superintendents than permanent superintendents across the districts. Leaving decisions about superintendent pay to the districts will hopefully reverse this trend,” said Senator Sarlo (D-Bergen).
“It should be noted that the original intent of the cap was to rein in boards of education that gave out excessive salary packages with no real constraints,” Sarlo added. “Unfortunately to rein in a handful of boards that were derelict, we punished some very well run school districts and are continuing to pay the price. It’s time to correct this issue. School districts know best the kind of leadership they need for their district, and should have the ability at the local level to make these decisions.”
The bill was approved by a vote of 4-2. It next goes to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration.