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BOE Opposes Governor's Superintendent Salary Cap

School approves resolution 4-1 to officially go against Christie's salary proposal.

Deciding to act quickly and using firm language, the Ridgewood Board of Education officially opposed the governor's plan to impose a cap on superintendents' pay.

Voting 4-1, with Board President Michele Lenhard in the opposition, the board passed a resolution speaking against Gov. Christie's plan that strips a school district the right to set its leader's wages.

"We've been elected by the community to evaluate the superintendent on goals we decide upon, not the Department of Education," board member and resolution drafter Sheila Brogan said Monday.

The governor's policy would limit maximum base salary for superintendents based on the rise of the school district's size. For example, a superintendent for a K-8 district with fewer than 250 students would be restricted to $120,000, with salaries increasing from there, according to the governor's office.

The state's Department of Education would oversee the salaries—essentially taking the power away from individual school districts. Christie said 366 school superintendents' salaries would exceed the new cap—including Ridgewood Superintendent Dr. Daniel Fishbein, who made $216,500 in 2009-10. With Ridgewood falling in the over 3,000 students and less than 10,000 students range, Fishbein's salary would be capped at $175,000 per year.

Under the plan, superintendents could also receive merit stipends based on quantitative and qualitative standards set by the state.

Ridgewood's resolution outlines several flaws the school board feels the governor's policy contains, including:

  • An arbitrary comparison to Gov. Christie's salary;
  • No condition for standard of living differences; and
  • Stripping the district of its right to set its own standards.

Depriving the school board of home rule seemed to particularly draw the district's ire, with the resolution reading:

[T] hat with dwindling resources, reduced state aid, and restrictive tax and expenditure limits, the job of the superintendent to manage the budget, supervise staff, oversee the instructional program, ensure compliance with state and federal mandates, and focus efforts on continued improvement and high student achievement requires a skilled administrator whose salary is appropriately determined based on his/her education, experience, skill, and goal attainment, not on the number of students in the district or a state approved list of performance criteria...

Last week, the governor signed a 2-percent property tax cap restricting municipal, school and county budget increases. Although Lenhard agreed with the spirit of Ridgewood's resolution, she felt it dealt too specifically with one aspect of the governor's overall reform. 

"Our teachers are under attack. There's lot of problems with his cap. We shouldn't be focusing on this one thing, but instead we should have a broader overall strategy," she said.

Lenhard said she thought the board should voice its opinion in public hearings.

Board member Laurie Goodman, who eventually voted for the measure, questioned the purpose of a resolution: Would the symbolic gesture make a difference?

"No, I don't think Gov. Christie will respond, but our legislators may see it if it gains others' support," Brogan said. The district also drafted a generic template other school boards could use to pass similar resolutions. Brogan wanted to create "a ground swell."

Board Vice President Robert Hutton and member Charles Reilly oppose Christie's plan, as they say it continues a trend in the state micromanaging individual districts.

"It's the battle of home-rule philosophy verses Trenton centralization," Hutton said. "If these [laws] continue, I'll have to abstain on issues and wait for the governor to tell me what to do."

Although Reilly said he understands some reform is needed—a superintendent overseeing one building shouldn't make as much as another with several schools under his or her jurisdiction—this policy "is not the way to organize an education system...

"For a K-12 district that's very efficient, we need to have an education leader who values that. It's a vital area for us," he said.

The board will send the resolution to Christie, Commissioner of Education Bret Schundler, Senate President Stephen Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, State Senator Kevin O'Toole, Assemblyman David Russo, Assemblyman Scott Rumana, the Garden State Coalition of Schools, Dollar$ and Sense, the Bergen County Association of School Administrators, the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, the New Jersey Association of School Business Officials, and the New Jersey School Boards Association.

Read the entire resolution attached.

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