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9-17-14 Hearing on Superintendent Salary Caps Sets Opens Conversation for Compromise

NJ Spotlight - Talks Sought on Easing Much-Debated Caps on Superintendent Salaries...Legislative and legal actions have failed to sway Christie administration, so lawmakers may try joint nonbinding resolution

John Mooney | September 17, 2014


After fighting Gov. Chris Christie’s school superintendent salary caps through legislation and even the courts, critics of the pay limits are now trying a softer approach: diplomacy.

The Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Public Schools yesterday held a hearing on the pay limits enacted by Christie in 2011, taking testimony from a handful of school organizations and superintendents themselves.

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Controversial Salary Caps Under Discussion – Again

After a wide-ranging discussion that delved into the issue of administrative spending in general, the hearing ended with most agreeing that the next step was to press the administration to consider at least easing the salary caps, which are scheduled to expire in November 2016.

The proposal is likely to come in the form of a joint nonbinding resolution of the state Senate and the Assembly that would effectively call for the state education commissioner to end the caps for contracts entered into or renewed in 2015.

Those contracts already in place would be open to renegotiation when -- and if -- the caps expired, under the proposal offered by the state’s superintendent association.

That’s a big if, of course, as neither Christie nor his administration have given any indication that they would alter the caps as they stand. The administrative could effectively extend the limits on its own.

But a likely prime sponsor of the resolution said afterward that he was hopeful a compromise can be reached.

“Right now it is not a Democratic or Republican issue,” said state Assemblyman David Wolfe (R-Ocean), the joint committee member who called the hearing. “It is an issue that we all feel has to be resolved.”

Wolfe’s standing as a Republican and a deputy minority leader is especially notable, as GOP votes would clearly be needed for Christie to even take notice.

The caps on superintendent salaries on based on enrollment, ranging from $125,000 in the smallest districts to $175,000 in K-12 districts up to 10,000 students. The 16 largest districts in the state, all exceeding 10,000 students, fall outside the caps but still need state approval of new superintendent contracts.

“When it expires, what happens to people who are hired after that?” Wolfe said in an interview. “And also those who are currently in those positions, are they then locked in?”

“We’ll have the wording prepared (for the resolution), and we’ll have the Senate and Assembly review it, and hopefully it would pass,’’ he said.

Still, the hearing seemed to be just a small step in the long-running debate over the caps, which were enacted unilaterally by Christie and then-Education Commissioner Bret Schundler without approval or even public input from the Legislature.

Several legal appeals have fallen short, and a bill to repeal the caps has stalled in the Senate, without even a companion bill in the Assembly.

Yesterday’s hearing largely consisted of representatives of the large school organizations repeating their concerns about the caps and what they have done to leadership in their schools.

Several stressed that phasing out the caps now would not mean that pay would return to the levels before 2011, when salaries well above $200,000 were not unusual and curbing excessive compensation became a popular political cause.

The advocates for lifting the caps cited other limits that would remain in place on overall administrative pay, as well as the statewide 2 percent limit on property tax increases. The state, they noted, would also retain its authority to review all administrative contracts.

“You couldn’t go crazy,” said Melanie Schulz, director of governmental affairs for the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, the superintendents group. “You would have to stay prudent.”

But some committee members, most of them Republicans, were skeptical. State Assemblywoman Donna Simon (R-Hunterdon) said she has asked local school officials what they thought would be a more reasonable level.

When they went as high as $400,000, if necessary, “that was the end of the discussion,” she said.

“Enough is enough,” Simon said. “People are suffocating in taxes.”



Testimony before the Joint Committee on the Public Schools, September 16, 2014.

Submitted by:

Michele Lenhard

22 South Hillside Place

Ridgewood, NJ 07450



Ridgewood Board of Education - elected 2007

Garden State Coalition of Schools – Vice President

New Jersey School Boards Association - Legislative Committee, Resolution Subcommittee, Student Achievement Task Force, Bergen County School Boards Association County Officer.


Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony regarding the Superintendent Salary Cap Regulation.  Unfortunately I am not able to attend the September 16th hearing to address you in person. I also wish to specifically recognize the leadership of Senator Ruiz and Sarlo, as well as Asm. Jasey and Diegnan for sponsoring legislation which recognizes the authority to compensate the Superintendent rests with the local Board of Education.


The regulation adopted by the Commissioner of Education in 2011 capping a superintendents salary, in my opinion, is the single most damaging decision made by the State of New Jersey which impacts public education.  As my testimony will support the educational leadership necessary to sustain long-term educational success begins with the relationship created between the Board of Education and the Superintendent.



While I have much to say on this topic, my testimony this morning will focus on the role of the relationship between the Board of Education and the Superintendent as critical to the long-term success of a school district. . My hope is that by establishing testimony, which clearly articulates this relationship, committee members will understand why they need to support this legislation. Attached to this testimony is a copy of the Iowa Association of School Boards Lighthouse Study, which provides supporting documentation.


The Ridgewood Public School mission statement speaks to our commitment to a “tradition of excellence and innovation” and maximizing a students potential to become a life long learner.  Our mission was reaffirmed three years ago during a strategic planning process with community stakeholders.  But having a mission may as well be like having a dream if you cannot put it into practice.  To close the gap between mission and reality takes leadership. Ridgewood works to achieve our mission every day and by every measure of accountability has demonstrated long-term success. I believe this is because we have also been fortunate enough to benefit from years of strong, consistent and experienced educational leadership which values instructional decision making.  Instructional decision making happens at every level of a school district. Its evidence is seen daily in our classrooms, by our building Principals and supervisors, and by our superintendent.  However, good instructional decision making takes work.


The structure created for example by the State Academic Standards is interpreted locally through written curriculum and then again by the classroom teacher’s lesson plan.  It is the innovation and creativity at the local level, which brings a rich and rewarding classroom experience to our students.  Ridgewood has 6 Elementary Schools, 2 Middle Schools and a High School.  We have 826 staff members (550 Teachers, 26 Administrators, 200 Special Education Aides, 50 secretaries)

How do we make sure all students have access to the same educational opportunity?


I quote from, Leading for Instructional Improvement, by Steven Fink and Anneke Markholt,  “It take expertise to make expertise”. It is the role of school district leaders to develop and cultivate the expertise necessary for high-quality teaching.  This deeper level of understanding brings a greater level of problem solving.  Leadership at the classroom level requires a certain level of expertise but leadership at the district level requires expertise in multiple disciplines.


The superintendent is clearly the educational leader of the school district, however without a shared vision for student success with the Board of Education our mission could not be achieved.  The role of the Board of Education comes into the picture by providing accountability for local constituents. The only employee we directly hire and manage is the Superintendent.  The give and take of this relationship is critical for success as goals are established for the district, budgets are set, and a Chief School Administrator is hired and evaluated.  The salary caps severely limits a board’s ability to attract and retain quality leadership.  How can you set an upper benchmark for a salary without even considering cost of living adjustments, rising healthcare costs, and experience levels of candidates?  Boards of Education are sensitive to balancing a quality educational with the local tax rate.  We know the value our community places on education and the quality they have come to expect. Our Superintendent will tell you we expect him to perform miracles these days with dwindling state aid, tax levy caps and ever increasing state mandates.  The residents of Ridgewood have not changed their expectations and neither has the BOE. Through the budgeting process the board can prioritize and allocate resources accordingly to meet the educational goals of the school district.  There are sufficient budgetary parameters already in place by the State to control spending. We need the flexibility to make decisions locally within those parameters in the best interest of our communities.


A few key points which highlight why capping a superintendents salary is unnecessary:


·         A Redundant Cap: The cap on superintendent salaries is unnecessary due to the existence of the 2 percent property tax levy cap on the operating budget and the administrative spending growth cap. If boards are able to create budgets within these existing caps while providing a thorough and efficient education, what they pay the superintendent should be a local decision.


·         Executive County Superintendent Oversight: Through regulation and statute the Executive County Superintendent reviews all superintendent employment contracts, providing sufficient controls and safe guards on superintendent compensation.


·         Stability of Leadership:  The cap has had a negative impact on the quality, stability and continuity of educational leadership: The superintendent salary cap has caused high turnover rates as superintendents leave to pursue opportunities in neighboring Pennsylvania , Connecticut, and New York; states that do not cap superintendent salaries. It has also increased the use of interim superintendents, and caused a decline in the experience level of candidates for superintendent positions.  Administrative personnel do not seek advancement to the superintendent seat as in the past.


·         Costly:  Interims superintendents cost the State more money: The use of interim superintendents, as a result of the cap, has been a net negative for State finances as they not only earn a salary from the district but also draw on the already overburdened State pension system.


·         Flexibility of Local Control: The vast majority of school boards in New Jersey are democratically-elected. They are entrusted by the taxpayers to spend tax dollars judiciously. If they fail to do so, the voters are empowered to replace them through the electoral process.  This decision is best left at the local level.


Key qualities of a good superintendent: Educational mentor, communicator, community leader, CEO of a multi million dollar enterprise, manager of personnel, interpreter of State regulations, parental coach, advocate and as previously stated, educational leader.

IASB Lighthouse Research Report: http://www.ia-sb.org/WorkArea/showcontent.aspx?id=570