BY BOB HOLT
New Jersey school officials are challenging Governor Chris Christie in state Superior Court about using his administration's proposed salary cap to freeze current contracts which are under negotiation.
The New Jersey Association of School Administrators argued that acting education commissioner Rochelle Hendricks broke the law by telling 21 executive county superintendents that any new or renegotiated contracts must comply with the salary cap, which has not yet been formally adopted. These state-appointed county officials have the power to approve or reject local superintendent deals.
Some school boards want to get contract offers finalized quickly but they appear to be stuck. The Christie administration has proposed salary caps that would officially take effect Feb. 7. The caps would affect new contracts, and would bar almost all district chiefs from taking home more than the governor's $175,000 in base pay. The proposal must have three public hearings before becoming official; although only one has been held so far.
The Press of Atlantic City reports the proposed regulations cap superintendent salaries at between $125,000 and $175,000, based on district enrollment, with some additional payments allowed for superintendents who serve more than one district, or who head a district of more than than 10,000 students.
According to the proposed guidelines, the education commissioner "may approve a waiver of the maximum salary" for districts larger than 10,000 students "on a per-case basis."
The regulations, first discussed in July and introduced Nov. 1, would kick in only at the end of existing contracts - prompting a flurry of expedited negotiations in districts throughout New Jersey. Salaries in districts of Parsippany's size would be capped at $175,000.
The Parsippany-Troy Hills school board recently voted to circumvent the cap by extending the contract of its superintendent, LeRoy Seitz, who now makes $212,000.
According to the Daily Record, Morris County Executive County Superintendent Kathleen Serafino, who was on vacation when the board voted, informed the K-12 district on Nov. 15 that she never approved Seitz' contract as required by state law. The education department ordered a freeze on new contracts pending a review of all superintendent contracts statewide.
On Friday the Parsippany-Troy Hills board filed a motion in the appellate division of superior court, asking it to require the Morris executive county superintendent to approve the disputed contract, according to the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, which filed papers to join as a friend of the court.
Mycentraljersey.com reports that an informal survey of area school districts shows that most superintendents' contracts expire a few years after the governor's proposed salary cap is expected to take effect – and most boards of education are not planning contract talks to circumvent the Feb. 7 deadline.
Meanwhile, legislation that would require the development of a "model" superintendent contract passed the Assembly Monday. The bill seeks to have the education commissioner, New Jersey Association of School Administrators and New Jersey School Boards Association team up to write a template for contracts to save districts negotiation time and money. The model contract would address salary, health insurance, pension benefits, sick days and vacation leave.
"Superintendent's contracts should be fair, consistent and most importantly transparent," said a release from Assemblyman Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr., D-Middlesex, head of the Assembly education committee, according to NorthJersey.com.
The Department of Education is holding public hearings on the new salary cap regulations, including one scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 2, at Cumberland County College in Vineland.