I interviewed Jerry Weast last year soon after the announcement that he would be retiring as superintendent of the Montgomery County (Md.) School District. Over his 12 years as superintendent, he became renowned for his bold whole-district transformation, which included raising academic standards and narrowing the achievement gap for over 145,000 students in the 17th-largest school district in the nation. I also kept up with Joshua Starr, who from 2005 was the superintendent of Stamford (Conn.) Public Schools, a district that happens to lie next to our Norwalk office. As Starr joined the ranks of large-district superintendents, taking the helm at Montgomery County last July, I thought it was time for us to report on how boards of education find a successor to a superintendent who has left such a successful legacy. In our Special Recruitment Report, contributing writer Ron Schachter takes on this topic.
In “The Critical Task of Hiring a New Chief,” another article in the Special Recruitment Report, we look at more traditional superintendent searches, if there is such a thing these days. Roy Montesano comes to mind. I met him at the recent District Administration Leadership Institute’s Superintendents Summit. He is New Jersey’s reigning Superintendent of the Year, as superintendent of the Ramsey School District. But unfortunately, he is joining the exodus of school superintendents who are escaping New Jersey’s cap on superintendent salaries.
Under the cap, of $175,000 for superintendents of districts with fewer than 10,000 students, his salary (in his 3,100-student enrollment district) would have dropped from about $224,000 to $167,500. In the Hastings-on-Hudson (N.Y.) Union Free School District, which Montesano will lead beginning in July, he will earn about $235,000 and be eligible for annual raises. It’s a sad loss for New Jersey, as he takes with him an array of leadership skills.
In the 2010-2011 school year alone, 29 percent of New Jersey’s school districts changed superintendents, according to the New Jersey School Boards Association. Gov. Chris Christie is rightfully trying to make fiscal progress, but targeting the important role of the school superintendent, to save what ultimately will make a minor difference in a district’s total budget, could lead to a huge backlash.