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N.J. Salary Caps Cause Superintendents to Flee

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie imposed salary caps on superintendents causing many stellar district leaders to seek work outside the state.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie imposed salary caps on superintendents causing many stellar district leaders to seek work outside the state.

Roy Montesano had a distinguished career in New Jersey, where he had been a middle school science teacher and principal, a director of curriculum and technology, and for the past 12 years, a superintendent in the Westwood and Ramsey school districts. Montesano was the 2012 New Jersey Superintendent of the Year. In the 2012-2013 school year, he will lead the Hastings-on-Hudson (N.Y.) Union Free School District.

DA: Why did you retire after this past school year and accept a superintendent job in New York?
Montesano: The governor of New Jersey instituted salary caps in Feb. 2011 on school superintendents based on student enrollment within each district. For example, where I worked in Ramsey, student enrollment was approximately 3,100 students. The mandated caps regulate that the most that can be paid to a superintendent is $167,500 ($165,000 plus $2,500 because there is a high school). While there is an opportunity to get a merit bonus of an additional 14.9 percent, that money is not pensionable. My salary in Ramsey was $232,000. Based on the cap laws, at the end of my contract I would experience a $64,500 cut in salary, no matter my performance or success in the district.

I, like many other New Jersey superintendents, began exploring opportunities outside the state where salary caps do not exist. I was very fortunate to be offered a position in the Hastings-on Hudson district. It is a lovely community—a little smaller than Ramsey but with many similarities. The commute will be a little longer, but still within an hour of where I live. I am very excited to become part of this school district, but it is bittersweet, as I thought I would spend the rest of my career in Ramsey.

How will this change impact your career as a superintendent?
Montesano: Going to a new state, I am sure there will be some things that I will have to get up to speed on. Overall, I don’t see it as a major change from the day-to-day work that I do now. When all is said and done, it is still about children and what occurs every day in the classroom. That is the part of the job that is most exciting and really what matters most.

Roy Montesano, Superintendent, Hastings-on-Hudson (N.Y.) Union Free School District

  • Salary at Ramsey School District 2011-2012: $232,000 plus perks
  • Salary at Ramsey School District 2012-2013 (if Montesano had stayed): $167,500
  • Salary at Hastings UFSD 2012-2013: $235,000 plus perks
  • Student enrollment at Ramsey: 3,100
  • Student enrollment at Hasting UFSD: 1,567

How will this change impact future superintendents and students in New Jersey?
Montesano: Hastings UFSD is considered one of the “Quad” districts, along with three neighboring districts. Out of the four districts, three superintendents are former New Jersey superintendents. In Bergen County alone last year, about 25 superintendents, or a third of the total, left to avoid caps.

I have heard statements out of Trenton, the capital, suggesting the salary cap is a good thing, as this is getting the dead wood out of the way and opening opportunities for fresh young minds to become leaders. While there may be some truth to that, I don’t think this is good for New Jersey schools or students. I am very concerned about the future of school leadership. There are some really good, young educators moving into the superintendent position. But many of them lack experience.

In Ramsey, the new superintendent will earn less money than the business administrator, curriculum director, and the high school and middle school principals.—Judy Faust Hartnett