TRENTON, October 19, 2012—The turnover of school superintendents in New Jersey continues at a rapid pace, as nearly a third of school districts changed superintendents in the 2011-2012 school year, according to the New Jersey School Boards Association.
The past year's turnover rate – with 31.4 percent of districts in the state losing their chief school administrator – was the highest rate in the 11 years that the NJSBA has monitored superintendent employment. It edged out the previous high rate of 28.9 percent, which occurred in 2010-2011.
In all, 185 school districts changed superintendents during the 2011-2012 school year. The main reason was retirement, accounting for 90, or nearly half, of the changes. Additionally, in 19 percent of the cases, the superintendent moved on to another district. Replacing a long-term interim superintendent accounted for 21 percent of the turnover. Other reasons included superintendents who resigned or died, or a school board agreeing to share superintendents with other districts.
The lowest turnover rate over the past 11 years occurred in 2006-2007, when only 8.2 percent of the state's school districts changed superintendents.
Important Role "The most important decision a board will make is typically the hiring a superintendent," said John Bulina, NJSBA president.
"The superintendent is in charge of the district on a day-to-day basis, and the school board holds the superintendent responsible for meeting educational goals and objectives," Bulina said. "However, when school districts face instability in the office of the chief school administrator, it's difficult to achieve the educational changes your community seeks."
Reasons for Turnover Superintendent turnover has been an issue nationally for over a decade, as many in the ranks of superintendents are near or at retirement age. As far back as 2001, Education Week magazine called the high turnover rate among school superintendents as the nation's "most recent educational crisis." That year, one in five New Jersey school districts saw a change in the front office.
While the turnover rate slowed somewhat after that, the issue was compounded last year when the state moved to control rising superintendents' pay by imposing salary caps. Superintendent contracts are now capped at $120,000 for small districts with fewer than 250 students, and rise to $175,000 for districts with up to 10,000 students. Superintendents in districts with more than 10,000 students are subject to separate rules developed by the New Jersey Department of Education, and extra stipends can be awarded in certain situations, such as when a superintendent is in charge of two school districts.
In addition, New Jersey now requires public employees to pay a greater share toward their pension and health benefits. Those factors may have led many superintendents who were considering retirement to make the decision to step down, according to NJSBA.
Succession Planning Many schools have adopted a "grow your own" approach with succession planning, in which internal candidates are encouraged to work toward the superintendency. Twenty-five of the 185 new superintendents (13.5 percent) were internal appointments last year.
NJSBA represents all New Jersey school boards, whose members are entirely unpaid and have no personal or financial stake in the matter of superintendent compensation and benefits. Bulina noted, however, that a top priority of the school board is to ensure the community's schools have the best possible educational leader for the financial resources that are available.
Percentage of school districts that changed superintendents in a given school year
2011-2012 – 31.4%
2010-2011 – 28.9%
2009-2010 – 18.2%
2008-2009 – 20.5%
2007-2008 – 16.8%
2006-2007 – 8.20%
2005-2006 – 11.6%
2004-2005 – 14.4%
2003-2004 – 12.5%
2002-2003 – 18.2%
2001-2002 – 21.0%
Source: New Jersey School Boards Association
The New Jersey School Boards Association is a federation of 586 local boards of education and includes more than 75 charter school associate members. NJSBA provides training, advocacy and support to advance public education and promote the achievement of all students through effective governance.