Schundler said that although the average superintendent contract is three to five years, they remain in districts an average of two years.
"People are bouncing around like free agents in baseball," Christie said.
he fairly recent rise in superintendent pay and the so called "bouncing around" in part stems from the state's decision almost two decades ago to do away with tenure- a Republican administrations decision to bring "market forces to bear". Many superintendents in effect are free agents, moving among school districts and taking salary increases as they go, said Scott Oswald, superintendent of the Collingswood district.
"If a district is looking for someone, they'll look to those districts where there's been success, where a person's proven themself," he said.
And for those school districts where high test scores have come to be expected - the schools' reputation drawing new residents to town in droves - superintendents can get top dollar.
SPOTSWOOD — Gov. Chris Christie today said he wants to limit pay for school superintendents and other administrators based on district size, cutting back salaries for those who already make more than the max, and introduce merit-based bonuses.
The proposal would mean pay cuts for 366 superintendents at the end of their contracts, saving school districts $9.8 million, the governor said.
“While families and school districts across the state cope with fewer resources and continued fiscal challenges, many school administrators continue to receive salaries that are out of proportion with the private sector and current economic realities," Christie said in a statement. “This cap will limit excessive administrator pay and ensure that more dollars are available for our children.”
Christie unveiled the limits in Spotswood, where he commended administrators for accepting a wage freeze. Pay for superintendents would be pegged to the number of students in a district, from $120,000 for the smallest districts up to more than $175,000 in the 16 districts with more than 10,000 students. Bonuses for "significant, state-defined improvements in student learning" would be offered, but would not count toward a superintendent's pension.
Education commissioner Bret Schundler said the salary limits would also apply to non-tenured assistant superintendents and business administrators. Those who are tenured and are above the scale will see their pay frozen, he said. Interim superintendents will also be covered by the rules, Schundler said.
Richard Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, said the governor was unfairly singling out school administrators. “Clearly, we think this is the wrong path,” he said. “Why don’t we see college presidents, or hospital administrators, or police chiefs or football coaches at colleges on the list. We’re not talking about comprehensive reform here. We’re talking about targeting a specific group.”
Bozza said he worried the state would lose experienced administrators and create an imbalance in the school leadership ranks.
“We’ll have a situation where the school superintendent, who is the leader of the district, earning less and having fewer benefits than many of the people who work for him or for her in the district,” he said. “That’s just an incentive for experienced people to go to other states, for people who are principals who might aspire to a higher position not to take it.”
Christie said New Jersey "may lose some" superintendents because of the salary cuts, but "if that's their basis for going, goodbye." He said he hopes other states will follow suit by reining in pay, and he believes the caps will calm down the competition for superintendents among districts within the state.
"People are bouncing around like free agents in baseball," the governor said.
The proposed pay scale also includes tiers for superintendents who manage more than one school district, as well as districts that include high schools. Christie and Schundler said the changes will encourage school districts to share superintendents.
Christie made teacher pay a major issue throughout the spring, urging residents to vote down school budgets in districts where unions had refused to renegotiate contracts and accept pay freezes.
Superintendents' contracts are reviewed by executive county superintendents, which are appointed by the governor.
Proposed pay limits for school administrators
School enrollment / maximum pay
up to 250 / $120,000
251 - 750 / $135,000
751 - 1,500 / $150,000
1,501 - 3,000 / $165,000
3,001 - 10,000 / $175,000
More than 10,000 / to be determined by the Department of Education
According to the guideline, the Superintendent of Hoboken would be capped at $165,000.
Picture: Gov. Chris Christie, left, and Education Commissioner Bret Schundler announce their plan to cut the pay of school superintendents during a press conference held at the E. Raymond Appleby Elementary School in Spotswood. (Robert Sciarrino/The Star-Ledger)