Superintendent/Student Ratios

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Everyone’s talking about superintendent salary caps. The Record reports that the New Jersey Association of School Administrators filed a motion in State Superior Court claiming that just because Gov. Christie has proposed caps doesn’t mean he can enforce them right now. The association also argues that Acting Commissioner Rochelle Hendricks “broke the law” by advising our 21 Executive County Superintendents to veto any contracts above the caps.

In other litigation, the Parsippany-Troy Hills School Board filed suit in the appellate division of Superior Court regarding the Morris County Executive County Superintendent’s refusal to approve the new contract for Superintendent Le Roy Seitz, which will pay him $234,065 by the fifth year of the 5-year contract.

Under the caps proposed by Christie, Seitz’s salary couldn’t rise above $175K because the district’s enrollment is 7,272 kids.

There’s a sense in which superintendents are merely a foil in this battle, an convenient symbol of unsustainable public salaries and benefits. No doubt the best superintendents in the biggest districts are worth a quarter of a million dollars a year, which is pretty much a rounding error in the context of an annual budget like Newark’s. But the math doesn’t work when you have 591 districts.

Massachusetts, for example, widely regarded as the national leader in public school achievement, has almost 1 million students (NJ has 1.1 million) and 329 school districts. Still a lot, but nothing like our student:district ratio. Maryland, another highly regarded system, has 821,360 kids and 24 school districts. Anyway, you get the idea. It’s fine to pay hard-working school superintendents what they’re worth. But can we really pay them at that rate when the ratio of superintendent:student is so low?

It’s more likely that Christie’s salary caps are aimed at publicizing the inefficiencies of NJ’s public school system rather than extending the reach of state government. It’s not about the salary caps. It’s about systemic change.

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  • kallikak, November 24, 2010 @ 6:04 pm Reply

    Fair play for NJ: the actual Census data reveals that the administrative burden as a fraction of total school costs is noticeably lower in NJ than in Maryland (with its seemingly more economical system of county superintendents*). We are, however, somewhat more expensive than Massachussets.

    Demagoguery aside, why aren't we focusing on TOTAL administrative costs, as opposed to the compensation of only the CEO?

    *Lesson: watch out for those costly local deputy supers.

  • kallikak, November 24, 2010 @ 6:33 pm Reply

    Required reading:

    Published Sunday 11-21-10 Daily Record –

    Jim O’Neill, Superintendent, School District of the Chathams

    Identifying the problem is easy; bringing attention to the problem is laudable; pretending to have answers to all the problems is disingenuous. Governor Christie is a master politician, has an appealing populist agenda and has become the darling of many in the media. The governor has, in fact, correctly identified many of the difficult and perplexing issues that face New Jersey. Unfortunately, Mr. Christie then decided it was good politics if not good policy, to ridicule, berate and demean the very people who are in a position to help him find long term solutions. This is how citizens of good will, who are eager to contribute to problem solving, find themselves at odds with the governor and sometimes each other…

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