With its hands tied by state regulations, the Ridgewood Board of Education will draft a resolution to lobby for changes in the state salary cap that will either force current superintendent Daniel Fishbein to take a substantial pay cut, or restrict the board in negotiations with other candidates when his contract expires this summer.
Board member Michele Lenhard, who proposed and will draft the resolution, said it is intended “to encourage school boards to look further at this issue and advocate on behalf of boards of education, from the standpoint that salary caps definitely impact the boards' ability to seek the best candidate for the superintendent position.”
If the Ridgewood school board approves the language of the draft, it will be submitted for approval to the NJ School Boards Association, a federation of the state’s school boards that advocates on their behalf. A resolution submitted by March would go before their resolution subcommittee and could be voted on by the spring delegate assembly.
If successful in the process, the resolution would make opposition to the salary cap a priority for school boards lobbyists in their trips to the state legislature.
The cap, which was put in place by the state commissioner of education without action by the legislature, caps superintendent salaries based on the size of the district. The regulation expires in November 2014, but board members’ concern is that, unless overturned by the legislature, it could be extended further—and indefinitely tie their hands in future contract negotiations.
Superintendent Fishbein’s current salary of $227,000 already exceeds the current cap of $165,000 for a district of Ridgewood’s size. , he will be forced to take a pay cut amounting to the difference.
And once an official reaches the cap, Lenhard pointed out, they begin “going backwards” as healthcare contributions rise, with no wiggle room for cost of living adjustments.
Board members agreed to move forward on a draft, citing other boards’ difficulties in recruiting new candidates and a 30 percent turnover rate among New Jersey superintendents as reasons for their support. Lenhard hopes to present the final language at their next meeting.
Board President Sheila Brogan pointed out an absence of support for similar resolutions when the regulation was adopted in 2010, but hopes that statistics collected since will help a new push for action at the state level.
“Three years later hopefully there will be a change in tune, when people see how much turnover there’s been and that we are losing experienced superintendents to surrounding states,” Brogan said.