New Jersey’s Educational Inequities Go Right Through the Superintendent’s Office

Howard Lerner is the Superintendent of Bergen County Technical Schools, which comprise several buildings with a combined enrollment of 2,211 students. He makes $255,877 a year.

Chris Cerf is Superintendent of Newark Public Schools, N.J.’s largest school district, which comprises 66 buildings and a combined enrollment of 35,835 students. He makes $255,524 per year.

Chalk up another inequity in school funding, as well as another failure of a signature Chris Christie initiative. (You can check out the top 25 salaries of district leaders in New Jersey here.)

Back in 2011, Christie pushed taxpayers’ buttons through frequent jabs at his posterboy for profligacy, Parsippany-Troy Hills Superintendent Leroy Seitz, who made $225,064 a year for running a 6,000 student district.  The implementation of a superintendent salary cap was a natural sequel; ergo, the Christie Administration issued a regulation under the auspices of the quixotically-named “Christie Tool Kit: Putting Children First by Cutting Out-of-Classroom Costs.” Using Christie’s own salary as the upper limit, the Department of Education decreed that  no superintendent could be paid more than  $175,000 (lower caps for smaller districts, exclusions for really big ones; merit bonuses may apply). Some spectators, including me, speculated that Christie’s real target was larger: not just superintendent salaries but those directly below, like business administrators and personnel directors, even principals. After all, how could boards of education possibly stomach paying upper and  middle management more than the CEO?

Word to the wise: school boards have strong digestive systems.

Some superintendents fled to rosier climes, like New York (just across the Hudson River) and Pennsylvania (just across the Delaware) which have no salary caps. Actually, no other state does. And that trickle-down effect on other “out-of-classroom costs”? Not so much.

In Princeton, for example, Superintendent Steven Cochrane makes the top capped salary of $167,500. His Assistant Superintendent, Lewis Goldstein, makes $171,286 and the Business Administrator, Stephanie Kennedy, makes $180,826.

Like Christie’s political career, the salary cap expired, replaced by legislation in May that raises top salaries and allows for longevity increases, as well as merit raises.

However, we’re still left with nonsensical discrepancies.  Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard, who runs the large, complex district of Camden makes less than Voorhees Superintendent Raymond Brosel, who oversees fewer than 3,000 students. Janet Fike, who runs a joint Morris-Union special education school, makes $213,282 for serving 250 students. (County superintendents are immune from the cap.) Arbitrary? Yes. Equitable? No. Putting kids first? Not a chance.

What do you think?

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