The New Jersey School Boards Association on Monday, Jan. 9, called on the state Department of Education to eliminate the five-year-old cap on school district superintendent salaries, which it termed an unnecessary “cap within a cap” that infringes on the authority of local boards of education.

The Association cited numerous other statutory and regulatory controls over school district administrative spending, which eliminate the need for the salary cap.

NJSBA provided its position during testimony before the New Jersey Department of Education on a portion of the state’s “Accountability Regulations” (N.J.A.C. 6A:23A, 1 through 15), which are due to expire in May. Its position is based on a year-long study of the regulations by a special task force, which included local school board members; resource persons representing the state’s executive county school business administrators; the New Jersey Association of School Business Officials; local school district administrators; and NJSBA legal, labor relations, policy, communications, governmental relations and field service staff.

“Our goal is to make sure that the new regulations promote responsible action and accountability, but do not handcuff school boards and their administrative staffs with red tape, restrictions and additional expense,” explained NJSBA Executive Director Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod who, with the Association’s president, Donald Webster, Jr., appointed the task force.

In addition to the superintendent salary cap, the Accountability Regulations address conditions for the receipt of state aid, travel policies and procedures, and numerous other areas.

On Nov. 16, the Department of Education released proposed revisions to the regulations, including significant changes to the salary cap provision. “While we appreciate movement on this issue, we are disappointed that the salary cap concept would remain in effect,” said Feinsod. “The compensation package for the district’s chief education officer should be the purview of the local school board, which is responsible for the local governance of public education.”

NJSBA’s testimony was presented by John Burns, NJSBA counsel.

“Salary caps tied to district enrollment are overly rigid and do not take into account variables, such as consolidation of additional administrative responsibilities in the position of the superintendent,” Burns testified. “In many smaller school districts, the chief school administrator also serves as a principal. In other districts, the superintendent assumes responsibilities that eliminate the need for an additional administrative position, resulting in cost-savings to the district.

“Further, the statutory 2-percent property tax levy cap and the administrative spending growth limit, along with other provisions of the Accountability Regulations, render a superintendent salary cap unnecessary.”

Burns noted that all new school administrator contracts in New Jersey are reviewed by the state’s executive county superintendents, a process that provides practical oversight “while maintaining an appropriate level of local discretion and authority.”

NJSBA’s testimony also cited the need to make the regulations’ nepotism policy requirements consistent with the New Jersey School Ethics Act and called for eliminating provisions that restrict local school district engagement of public relations and other professional services.

Data from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics show that New Jersey public schools spend a smaller percentage of their budgets on school and district administration than those of approximately 90 percent of all other states.

Public hearings on the Accountability Regulations were also scheduled to take place this week in Morris and Camden counties.