NJSPA, in addition to her sister stakeholders, weighed in, in support of legislation,S-1987 (Ruiz), before the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee February 9. The legislation moved out of committee largely along party lines.
The legislation would prohibit the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) from regulating the maximum salary amount a school district may pay its superintendent of schools. The bill legislation is in response to regulation that became effective back in late 2010 that limited the annual salary of superintendents to not more than $175,000 for most chief school administrators- the Governor’s own salary.
The salary cap, which is due to sunset in 2016, ranges from $125,000 to $175,000, depending on the size of the school district. Superintendents of certain schools, like charter schools and technical schools, are exempt.
Overwhelmingly the stakeholder groups, including NJPSA, NJASA and NJSBA, argued in support of the legislation / elimination of the cap – showcasing the struggle to deal with the turnover of superintendents that has ensued with implementation of the caps. The chief worry is that many veteran school chiefs have retired early due to the caps, or left for better paying jobs in New York and Pennsylvania. Board members and others have maintained that separate caps on tax levies and administrative spending have helped keep contracts under control with the strict caps.
The bill has strong support from Democratic leaders, with Senate President Stephen Sweeney calling the pay limits a “big mistake” and the influential chair of the education committee, Senator M. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) saying it is time to fix the regulations.
Ruiz and committee chair Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen), another cosponsor, concede that the cap did serve a purpose when Christie implemented it. But, Ruiz also acknowledges that the cap led to many unintended consequences.
"I think that the state of New Jersey often times can take a real quick approach to dealing with a problem in a short term manner, and we don't look at the long-term impact on unintended consequences," Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) said.
Nearly 100 New Jersey superintendents who had left their jobs as of February 2014 cited the salary cap as a factor, according to a survey of districts conducted last year by the New Jersey School Board's Association.
Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monouth) voted against the bill, though she said the cap is imperfect. Beck said she does not yet feel comfortable returning superintendent pay decisions to the local boards.
"The abuse was rampant and I think volunteers that serve on local school boards were really oblivious to the very generous packages that were being provided to the leadership," she said.
The bill will now go to a vote before the full state Senate.