Saturday, July 17, 2010

New Jersey Gov. Christie Proposes Superintendent Salary Cuts and Merit-Based Bonuses

The following story was reported on and by Claire Heininger and Lisa Fleisher of the Newark Star Ledger. A quick summary is that Governor Christie wants to cap the pay of Superintendent's around the State of New Jersey and is proposing this cap be correlated with the size of the school district as measured by number of students in the school district. There are a number of issues and inconsistencies at play here, I will try to explain a few briefly and save the details for a later post.

The Governor does not explain that Superintendents, by NJ law, are not able to receive tenure. In fact, they are limited to contracts of 5 years or less. From an idealogical point of view, a worker gives up security (tenure) for the right to be compensated on a competitive basis in an "open market" (all you libertarians and free market capitalists, please raise your hand). Conversely, one would argue that school districts can release a superintendent when they are not happy with him/her and bid for the most talented and highly experienced. For an analogy, think of "free agency" in baseball and the case of Curt Flood who challenged the old ruling that a player belonged to a baseball club (a "highly paid slave" in the words of Curt Flood).

In fact, Secretary of Education

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.

To be clear, t

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.

Governor Christie seemingly wants the best of BOTH worlds. He wants to place a cap on wages AND provide no security. Furthermore, he wants to eliminate the advantage of the "free market" in public education administration by NOT having superior superintendents compensated in the open market. Moreover, he wants to have a uniformed "merit" component incorporated, thus taking local control away from the Boards of Education -who are in a theoretically better position to decide what qualifies as "merit" for their particular district. Finally, it's somewhat simplistic to think that a superintendent's pay be correlated with the size of the district. Using this rationale, I imagine the CEO's of the largest companies should make the most money rather than the CEO's of the MOST PROFITABLE companies.

The average salary for a superintendent in New Jersey is $154,409, about $9,000 above the national average but below that of other states in the region, according a 2008 report commissioned by the New Jersey Association of School Administrators (NJASA).

More than any other position in New Jersey Public Education, the Superintendency is a unique position because there is so much responsibility and so little security. This is why they "hop around" from district to district. With changing Boards of Educations and the politics associated with such, Superintendents are in a uniquely vulnerable position. No one is crying for Superintendents, largely because of their higher than average salaries compared to the average New Jersey resident. But Superintendent salary offers a unique opportunity for the Governor and Secretary of Education to see clearly what an open market (or at least as close as you can get to such in the public sector) is willing to pay for expertise. The fact that the governor's cap is substantially lower than what the market is willing to bear, may be politically leveraged but seems to be inconsistent with more traditional Republican and capitalistic ideology. It is true that most state workers, including Governors and Secretary's of Education, do not work under these open market systems....but Superintendents do. A compromise would be to reintroduce tenure for Superintendents. This would then balance the short fall from a competitive market that superintendents must take from a compensation standpoint with the security and reduction of "hopping around" that is the current state of affairs as articulated by both the Secretary of Education and the Governor.

In part, do we look upon Superintendents as "big" Principals or do we look at them as Chief Operating Officers of "companies" with budgets in the tens/hundreds of millions of dollars?

It will be interesting to see if Governor Christie's fellow "free market" Republican colleagues support this measure and on what idealogical ground they base there justification.


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)