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2-9-15 Education Issues in the News

The Record – Affluent North Jersey school districts want to lift salary limits

February 8, 2015, 11:32 PM    Last updated: Sunday, February 8, 2015, 11:35 PM


Staff Writer | 

The Record


Saddle River is on the hunt for its third superintendent in three years.

Alpine wants permission to keep its interim leader beyond the two-year state limit.

And Ho-Ho-Kus is hoping its high-achieving, parent-involved district appears attractive to superintendent candidates — even though it can offer them only $135,000.

Leaders in some small, wealthy North Jersey school districts say the superintendent pay cap — instituted by Governor Christie in 2011 — has dealt them a particularly hard blow. Once seen as appealing places to work, these districts now are having trouble drawing and retaining top candidates because they’re competing with larger districts that are allowed to pay more and New York State, which has no salary limits. What’s more, they are willing to pay top dollar, but can’t.

On top of it, many of these chief executives often work double duty as principals, so offering them less than what they could earn in subordinate roles elsewhere isn’t always an easy sell.

Christie targeted superintendent salaries five years ago with his Reform Agenda to help school districts keep costs low and better finance priority services.

Superintendent salaries had risen, on average, 46 percent or $100 million between 2001 and 2010, according to the governor’s office.

The cap resulted in the reduction of salaries for about 360 school superintendents, or 70 percent, for a potential savings of nearly $9.8 million statewide, $2.2 million in Bergen County and $650,000 in Passaic County, according to the state data.

When the cap was imposed, Christie’s move was panned by educators and praised by fiscal conservatives, who complained about the state’s high property taxes — and even higher per-pupil costs for suburban districts.

Today, the New Jersey Senate Budget Committee will vote on a bill sponsored by Sens. Paul Sarlo, D-Wood-Ridge, and M. Teresa Ruiz, D-Newark, that would roll back the caps, prohibiting the state Department of Education from regulating the maximum salary a school district can pay its superintendent. The bill was already considered by the education committee, Sarlo said.

In findings, the Office of Legislative Services said it wasn’t possible to estimate the financial impact of the plan, but noted that when the cap was proposed, the Education Department said it could lower total salaries by $9.8 million.

“We understand why the cap was put in place … to control the few districts where they had runaway salaries,” Sarlo said.

But the cap, he added, caused a “brain drain” in successful districts.

“We lost superintendents who spent many years implementing successful programs,” he said. “They went to New York State and other states to serve as superintendents or chose different career paths.”

The cap limits salaries according to a district’s size. With a few exceptions for big cities, a district’s chief could not earn more than the governor’s $175,000 salary in base pay. For instance, districts with fewer than 250 students, like Alpine and Saddle River, can’t pay more than $125,000; those the size of Allendale and Upper Saddle River — with 751 to 1,500 students — max out at a base pay of $145,000 per year.

Michael Osnato, a former superintendent in Montclair who runs a superintendent search firm, said the cap has changed the dynamics.

“You have teachers who are making almost $100,000 and a superintendent making $135,000,” said Osnato, who is also chairman of the Leadership Department at Seton Hall University. “The teacher works 10 months a year. The superintendent is out 60 to 100 nights a year. There’s really no inducement financially.”

Smaller districts, Osnato said, often used to recruit principals looking to move up the ladder to become superintendents. Now, principals often outearn the district’s leader.

A spokesman for the state Department of Education said it would be “inappropriate to speculate” on how long the cap will be in place.

“We believe the caps are one tool in helping to rein in high administrative costs in New Jersey schools,” said David Saenz Jr. “Even with the salary limits in place, there have been outstanding candidates that have been hired to lead New Jersey’s school districts.”

But some, including officials in Saddle River, argue that if they can afford it, they should be able to spend it.

“There are pockets of communities, like ourselves, who have the means,” said Board of Education Vice President John LaSalandra. “And we are handcuffed by the state because of its one-size-fits-all kind of a law.”

Prior to the cap, Saddle River was paying David Goldblatt $207,500. Allendale’s chief, Jerilyn Caprio, was earning $187,494. And Alpine, which now maxes out at $120,000, was paying Kathleen Semergieff $179,647. Those educators have all left.

Agreeing to pay cut

The proposed bill to rescind the cap would be good news to Ho-Ho-Kus Board of Education President Mary Ellen Nye.

“We would welcome the restoration of our ability to determine the pay for our chief school administrator … based on his or her performance and qualifications rather than based solely on the number of students in our district,” she said.

Ho-Ho-Kus, a K-8 district, didn’t initially feel the pain after the cap kicked in. Its long-serving superintendent, Deborah Ferrara, signed a new contract, swallowing a more than $30,000 pay cut.

She stayed for two years under her new, lower-pay contract, but now is retiring.

“You have elected board of education members who are unable to make the single most important determination for your school district,” Nye said.

While sifting through candidates to take the helm in July, Nye was concerned applicants were just looking for a quick stepping stone to a better district.

“I think, ‘Are you using this as a way to go to Wayne or something bigger that comes up?’Ÿ” she said. “I can’t begrudge anybody that. But I’m hoping we can find somebody who will not do it.”

The superintendent cap came on the heels of a 2 percent limit for districts on annual budget increases.

“It’s a cap within a cap,” said John Boreman, business administrator in Allendale, which has 950 students. “The board would prefer to have the discretion to offer a competitive compensation package.”

Allendale hired Michael J. Barcadepone, a first-time superintendent, four years ago. His contract expires in June. If the district were to renew his contract, it would be for the exact same amount — $145,000.

“There’s no cost-of-living allowance in there,” Boreman said. “They can’t give any increase at all.”

Salary down 25%

Monica Browne, a former principal in Ridgewood, took a job in 2010 — before the cap took effect — as superintendent in Upper Saddle River. Her base salary shot from $150,000 to $170,000.

But that contract will expire this year, and her salary will drop by 25 percent. That’s less than she was earning in Ridgewood and less than some of her senior administrators. Still, Browne wants to stay.

“The bottom line is, I love working here,” she said, adding that the board and staff are committed professionals who have the best interests of students in mind in all decisions, be they policy or budgetary.

When Browne started as a brand new superintendent, she said, she would attend round-table meetings for local superintendents and the executive county superintendent.

“I would be there with people who would count — in decades — how long they had been superintendents,” she said. “Now people ask me, ‘How did things used to be?’ It’s a huge shift.”

Many experienced superintendents either retired or took jobs across the border in New York when the cap took effect.

“I can see Rockland County from my office, practically,” Browne said.

The Saddle River board is looking for a new leader for its one-school district to replace Margaret Contaldi, who resigned after just two years. Her predecessor, David Goldblatt, retired once his contract expired due to the cap, LaSalandra said.

Since the superintendent also serves as principal, officials explored sharing the administrator with neighboring Ramsey, where its students go to middle school and some attend high school. But the cap formula would have allowed Ramsey Superintendent Matthew Murphy to be paid only $45 a day more to also oversee Saddle River.

“We can’t expect somebody to do extra work for less than $50 per day,” LaSalandra said.

The state’s intention with the cap was to direct more money into the classrooms.

The roughly $100,000 per year Saddle River is saving on its superintendent “is a nice chunk of change,” LaSalandra said. “But if you don’t have the right person to put programs and curriculum in place, what have you really served up to the district?” he said.

Alpine Board of Education President Philip Simotas said that the role of the chief school administrator in a small district is more pronounced. If he doesn’t mesh well with the rest of the staff, whether it’s one person or five, it makes a big difference, he said.

“You really can’t cover up a bad superintendent in a small district,” Simotas said.

Staff Writer Hannan Adely contributed to this article. Email: priesa@northjersey.com


NJ Spotlight - The List: Ranking the Top 10 Open-Admission High Schools by SAT Scores…Recently released results from School Performance Tests help draw a bead on New Jersey's top public high schools

Colleen O'Dea | February 9, 2015


It used to be that New Jersey's county vocational-technical schools offered half-day programs for students who were more likely to go to work as mechanics or hair stylists than to go to college.

Today's vo-techs now operate some of the most elite public schools in New Jersey and the nation. U.S. News and World Report ranked Biotechnology High School in Freehold, part of the Monmouth County Vocational School District, 11th best in the nation and best in New Jersey among public schools. High Technology High School in Lincroft, another MCVSD school, ranked 20th nationally. Bergen County Academies, part of the Bergen County Technical Schools district, boasts thirty-six 2015 National Merit Semifinalists in a school with about 250 students in each grade level. These schools are smaller than the typical public school and more selective, requiring entrance exams as part of a competitive application process.

So it's not surprising that these academies had the highest total-mean-scores during the past school year on the Scholastic Aptitude Test that students take as part of the college application process. High Technology High topped the list with a mean of 2195 out of a possible 2400. (Scores are for seniors and members of the class of 2014.) Its total enrollment was just 286 students, with an enviable 11-to-1 student-teacher ratio in 2013-2014. Six other schools had mean scores higher than 2000: Academy for Mathematics, Science and Engineering in Morris County Vocational; Bergen County Academies; Biotechnology High in Monmouth; Middlesex County Vocational Academy of Math, Science and Engineering Technology; Union County Magnet High School; and Academy of Allied Health and Science in Monmouth.

But what about the comprehensive New Jersey public high schools (without competitive admission requirements) that most students attend? How well did their students do? Here, according to data from the most recent School Performance Reports released by the state Department of Education, are the ones with the highest SAT scores:

1. Millburn High School -- 1897 total SAT

In Essex County, Millburn has the ninth-highest median household income in New Jersey and is the wealthiest community on this list. It's not surprising that a wealthy school would be at the top of the list, since wealth has traditionally been a good indicator of student performance in school. More than 85 percent of students scored at least 1550 on the SAT, a benchmark the DOE says indicates a high likelihood of college success and completion. Millburn High's total enrollment was 1,531 students. While ranking tops among the all-purpose public schools, its SAT median was 12th highest overall in New Jersey.

2. Princeton High School -- 1867 total SAT

This used to be considered a regional school, accepting students from both the borough and the township before they merged to form a single school district in 2013. Home of New Jersey's Ivy League university, Princeton is both a well-educated and wealthy community. Eight of 10 students who took the SAT scored at least 1550. The school had 1,460 students last year.

3. West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South -- 1865 total SAT

Located in Princeton Junction, the larger of two schools in the Mercer County regional district, with 1,609 students, which had been considered among the wealthiest districts in the state under the DOE's District Factor Group system. Nearly 84 percent of students scored at least 1550 on the SAT. It ranked 14th overall statewide.

4. Tenafly High School -- 1863 total SAT

This Bergen County school has the smallest enrollment of all the general public high schools on this list, with 1,160 total students. More than 82 percent of those tested scored at least 1550 on the SAT. Its median SAT ranked 16th overall in New Jersey. U.S. News and World Report ranked it 301st best nationally, 18th best in the state.

5. West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North -- 1857 total SAT

The other high school in the regional district lagged by just 8 points. Located in Plainsboro, North has an enrollment of 1,548. Its median SAT placed it 17th overall in the state and almost 81 percent of students scored at least 1550.

6. Montgomery High School -- 1852 total SAT

The sprawling Somerset County township where this high school is located had the 15th-highest median household income in the state -- about $152,000, according to U.S. Census data. It has 1,720 students and about 84 percent of those who took the SAT scored 1550 or more. Its median SAT score ranked 18th overall in New Jersey.

7. Ridgewood High School -- 1785 total SAT

The second Bergen high school on the list, this school in an affluent suburb -- 24th-highest median income in the state -- had almost 78 percent of its students score at least 1550 on the SAT. Ridgewood's total enrollment is 1,703. Its median SAT score ranked 21st overall in the state.

8. Northern Valley Regional High School at Demarest -- 1776 total SAT

Another school in northern Bergen County, this is one of two high schools in the district. The Demarest high school enrolls 1,243 students from Demarest, Closter, and Haworth. Three-quarters of those who took the SAT scored 1550 or higher. Its median SAT was 22nd in the state.

9 (tied). Ridge High School -- 1773 total SAT

Serving 1,875 students from Bernards Township, Somerset County, Ridge had 73 percent of students score at least 1550 on the SAT. It was the highest-ranked all-purpose public high school in New Jersey by U.S. News and World Report, rated seventh-best in the state and 177th in the nation. Its mean SAT score was 24th-highest overall in the state.

9 (tied). John P. Stevens High School, Edison -- 1773 total SAT

It seems apt that a school in the township that was home to one of Thomas Edison's laboratories makes this list. JP Stevens is one of two high schools in the fifth-most populous municipality in the state -- with more than 101,000 residents in 2013. It is the largest high school on the list, with 2,120 students. It is also the most diverse, with 80 percent of students identified as minorities and 12 percent economically disadvantaged. Almost 70 percent of those who took the SAT got at least 1550.



Star Ledger - Education think tank gives Newark schools A- for school choice

By Naomi Nix | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com The Star-Ledger
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on February 07, 2015 at 1:20 PM, updated February 07, 2015 at 3:01 PM

NEWARK — An education think tank gave Newark Public Schools district high marks for offering parents choice in what type of school their children can attend.

Out of the country's 100 largest school districts, the Brown Center on Education at the Brookings Institute put the district in the number three slot behind only New Orleans and New York City respectively.

In a 10-page report, the Washington D.C.-based research firm cited the district's universal enrollment system, in which parents submit a list of up to 8 preferred schools and are then entered into a lottery to receive a school placement.

"New to our list of top performers this year, Newark, standout in their use of a centralized computer-based algorithm to assign public high school students to schools in such a way as to maximize the match between student preferences and school assignment," the researchers wrote.

But Newark's universal enrollment system has been controversial among local politicians, who argue that the system separates siblings, prevents students from attending neighborhood schools and forces students to travel long distances to school.

And earlier this month, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka released a letter he sent to state education commissioner David Hespe asking for additional information behind the algorithm used in the universal enrollment system.

To see the full report click here.

Naomi Nix may be reached at nnix@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @nsnix87. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

NJ Spotlight - Legislators, School Districts Scramble to Put PARCC Policies in Place…With the opt-out option growing in popularity across the state, educators and lawmakers rush to accommodate families who just say ‘no’

John Mooney | February 9, 2015


The debate over PARCC testing is hardly ebbing, so it should come as no surprise that districts and legislators are both treading carefully as they plot procedures and policies.

This week, the Assembly is taking up a bill that would establish a statewide policy for families sitting out of the tests and considering another measure that would delay the use of Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) scores for the next three years.

Related Links

Assembly Bill A-4165

Meanwhile, districts continue to talk through how they will handle families that decide to have their kids opt out of the new testing, which starts next month statewide.

Advocates say that as many as 50 districts have policies ready or in place.

In Freehold for instance, the policy to be considered by the board this week will include a separate room for students to do homework or other independent work, but no extra or alternative instruction.

But some high-profile districts are purposely not holding votes on separate policies so as not to encourage opting out, although they will have procedures in place. One is Millburn, where superintendent James Crisfield said students who do not participate will be able to do independent reading in the testing room while their classmates take the exams.

Crisfield didn’t hide his concerns with the new testing, including its duration and its use in teacher evaluation. But he also called the testing in language arts and math a valuable “data point” for measuring student progress that will be like many other assessments used.

He also said he couldn’t force families to participate, adding that he won’t punish students who refuse. As for an alternative instruction or even a separate space set aside, Crisfield said there will be neither.

“We don’t have the resources of another room or certainly an alternative program,” Crisfield said.

The same sort of back and forth is taking place on the state level, too, as legislators are trying to get ahead of the controversy that has engulfed New Jersey’s education policy.

The Assembly education committee is holding a hearing on Thursday where it will take up several PARCC bills, one that would require districts set up alternative programs for families refusing to participate and another that would delay the use of PARCC results altogether. The second bill is to be filed tomorrow.

“It’s always been my point that we have gotten ahead of ourselves with PARCC,” said state Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex), the committee chairman who is sponsor or cosponsor of each of the bills.

Diegnan said in an interview yesterday that the testing itself should go on as planned, and he thinks the assessments will have value. But recognizing the uproar, he said test results wouldn’t be used in judging teachers or schools -- or students -– while the state and perhaps a new study commission review the results.

“The results will be compiled for reference, but they won’t be used for that period of time,” he said

Diegnan’s opt-out bill has a long and bipartisan list of cosponsors. It would require parents to give written notification to districts ahead of time and districts to provide an alternative plan for students who opt out.

“A school district or charter school would be required to provide educationally appropriate alternative activities for a student who, under the bill, is not participating in the administration of a PARCC assessment,” reads the bill. “Any such alternative activity must occur in a room other than the room in which the assessment is being administered.”

Assemblyman Troy Singleton, (D-Burlington) the committee’s vice chairman, also proposed an opt-out bill that is similar in scope. He said yesterday that he wanted to fill the void left by the Christie administration, which has said that students are required to attend school during testing, the same as any other schoolday, but would leave it to districts as to how they deal with those opting out.

The bill is “designed to fill the void created by the administration not developing a uniform policy with regards to parents having their children opt out of the PARCC assessment,” he said in an email last night.

“I hope that children will sit for the test, but in the event that some parents keep them from doing such, we have an obligation to afford them with a suitable educational activity, in my opinion.”