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New Jersey’s Christie Seeks Superintendent Pay Cap

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July 15 (Bloomberg) -- New Jersey Governor Chris Christie proposed salary caps on public school superintendents to help rein in the highest property taxes in the U.S., a move he said may slice pay for 70 percent of the top district administrators.

Christie, 47, announced the limit today as part of a package to control rising real estate tax bills. The proposal would cut salaries for 366 school superintendents when their current contracts expire, the governor’s office said in a statement.

More than 50 school administrators had base salaries of $200,000 or more last year, the state Education Department reported last month. The governor’s salary is $175,000.

Under Christie’s plan, salaries would range from $120,000 for a K-8 district with fewer than 250 students to $175,000 for a superintendent in a district with as many as 10,000 students. A superintendent in one of the state’s 16 districts with more than 10,000 pupils may earn a higher base salary under the proposal.

“The superintendent pay situation has gotten out of control,” Christie said in Spotswood, where he announced the plan at an elementary school. “We need to make sure we’re putting as much money as we can back into the classroom.”

Local Boards

State Education Commissioner Bret Schundler discussed the plan with the New Jersey Board of Education, which sets rules supervising the state’s 2,500 public schools, in a conference call today, according to the governor’s office. Schundler will propose regulations to implement the salary cap, the statement said, without providing further details.

Administrative salaries are set by local boards of education. However, Christie said the state has the authority to place limits on pay packages they award to superintendents.

The limits may save as much as $100 million statewide, Christie said. Districts would be able to award merit-based bonuses of as much as 15 percent of administrators’ pay based on factors such as student performance and increased graduation rates, Schundler said.

Christie said he doesn’t anticipate a rush of retirements due to the cap. Superintendents, despite average contracts of three to five years, remain in districts an average of two years, the governor said.

‘Like Free Agents’

“People are bouncing around like free agents in baseball for more money,” he told reporters, referring to the lure of high salaries. “If that’s the real reason they’re here -- goodbye. They’ve got to be part of the shared sacrifice.”

Richard Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, said the proposal would make New Jersey less competitive than surrounding states in attracting qualified superintendents. Local school boards should retain control over the salaries, he said, comparing school administrators’ responsibilities to those of police chiefs, college presidents and hospital administrators.

“This is meant to be politically expedient,” he said in an interview. “This is not about reform. This is about trying to make them an example.”

Walter Uszenski, superintendent of the 2,000-student Spotswood district, said he agreed this year to freeze his own $142,000 salary. He declined to criticize the salaries paid to his peers and said he doesn’t think the proposal would harm districts’ recruitment efforts.

“A number of people in town have been losing jobs or having their salaries frozen,” Uszenski, 58, said in an interview. “As the leader of this district, I know I have to set the tone.”

New Jersey schools get the bulk of their financing from property taxes. The Republican governor signed a law setting a 2 percent limit on property-tax growth July 13, cutting in half a 4 percent cap enacted in 2007. The levies increased 72 percent from 1999 to 2009, to an average of $7,281.

To contact the reporter on this story: Terrence Dopp in Trenton, New Jersey, at tdopp@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net.

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