NJ’s Public School Choice Program: an Athletic WrinkleApril 10, 2013
Trenton Mayor Deposes School Board PresidentApril 10, 2013
Gordon MacInnes, head of NJ Policy Perspective and former honcho at the NJ Department of Education, is in a pet. In a column at Huffington Post, he scoffs at the Christie Administration’s predilection for deriding NJ’s public schools “instead of advertising and bragging about our public school students being among the best performing in the nation.” More specifically, he takes umbrage at NJ’s controversial salary caps for superintendents:
[W]hen it comes to recruiting the smartest, most effective educational leaders to take already good districts to another level, New Jersey has thrown in the towel. “Let ’em go to Rye, N.Y., we don’t care,” is the attitude of the Christie administration. Sure enough, the superintendent of the education commissioner’s hometown, Montclair, left for Rye and a $244,000 salary.
Certainly, there’s been a number of highly-regarded superintendents retiring because their contracts are expiring and the new state caps will kick in. In Mercer County alone, Princeton Superintendent Judy Wilson, who has been making $220K a year, just announced she’s leaving because her salary will nose-dive to $167.5K next year. Superintendent Victoria Kniewel of West Windsor-Plainsboro is quitting because her current salary, $192,676, will drop to $175K.
What could the Christie Administration be thinking with these accursed salary caps?
Once again: NJ has 591 school districts that serve 1.35 million kids. Each district has a Central Office employing a business administrator, personnel director, superintendent, etc. (Some of our tiniest schools share administrators, but that’s a rare exception). Everyone acknowledges that this is a massively ineffective infrastructure, creating unnecessary overhead, fragmentation, segregation, and higher property taxes. Every governor in recent memory has tried valiantly to encourage mergers. For example, Gov. Corzine ordered newly-created Executive County Superintendents to file consolidation recommendations. Many complied. Those recommendations are sitting in boxes somewhere in Trenton.
The salary caps, which range from $150K per year to $175K per year (with exceptions for Abbott districts) are certainly causing a number of woes. In particular, salaries for assistant superintendents, principals, and high-level Central Office staff are approaching those for chief school executives. Back in Princeton (here are 2012 numbers), Assistant Superintendent Lewis Goldstein makes $158,475, Business Administrator Stephanie Kennedy makes $167,302, and Facilities Manager Gary Weisman makes $148,826.
Where does that leave school boards? Pondering caps for other positions or ( be still my heart) considering whether the downsides of consolidation – some loss of local control and a blow for that intangible Jersey adoration of small town gestalt – outweigh the upsides of controlling costs.
Other states manage to maintain fine school systems through a fair less splintered structure. Massachusetts has 244 school districts serving just under a million kids. Connecticut has 195 school districts that enroll about 580,000 kids. Maryland, with a total public school enrollment of 832,600 children, has 24 school districts, one for each county, NJ’s ratio of school districts to students is, obviously, far higher.
Certainly, it’s sad to see beloved school leaders leaving because of pending salary cuts. But that’s a symptom of the NJ’s infrastructural problem, not the problem itself.