Tool No. 34: Superintendent Salary Cap

A new addition to Gov. Chris Christie’s toolkit would limit salaries for new superintendents, as well as for current chief school administrators upon expiration of their contracts.

Announced by Christie and Commissioner of Education Bret Schundler on July 15, the proposal would align the salary cap with district enrollment. (See chart right.)

In addition to earning a base salary within the limits, a superintendent serving a district with at least one high school would receive an additional $2,500.

For “shared superintendents,” those serving as chief school administrator in more than one distinct, the proposal would base the maximum salary on the total student enrollment of all districts served. It would also provide shared superintendents with a $5,000 increment for each additional district they manage.

Newspaper accounts indicate that the proposal would be implemented through state Board of Education regulation, rather than legislation. According to a Star-Ledger article, Commissioner Schundler said that the caps would also apply to other central office administrators, who have not yet earned tenure; central office administrators with tenure would have their salaries frozen if they exceed the maximums. The limits would also apply to interim superintendents.

Current Salaries Statewide, 366 superintendents currently earn more than the amount permitted by the new salary cap, according to the state Department of Education. In districts with more than 1,000 students, superintendents currently earn an average of $192,764; those serving districts with fewer than 1,000 students earn an average of $152,764.

“The Christie proposal brings superintendent salaries in line with district needs by cutting ‘out-of-classroom costs,’ ” reads a statement on the governor’s website. The administration estimates that the plan would result in annual statewide savings of $9.8 million.

Quality Leadership “The role of the board of education is…to ensure quality school leadership,” said Marie S. Bilik, NJSBA executive director, following Thursday’s announcement. “We will analyze the governor’s proposed salary caps from that vantage point.

“Obviously, major changes in compensation could affect the pool of qualified chief school administrators available to New Jersey school districts.”

County-Level Enforcement Under the proposal, “[s}chool boards would not be permitted to increase a superintendent’s base pay (for example, with longevity increases) beyond the salary caps,” reads a description posted online by the administration.

“Additionally, no superintendent contract that includes a compensation package above these salary caps could be extended; at its expiration, the new compensation package of the superintendent would need to conform to this new policy.”

“As with all elements of superintendent contracts, the Executive County Superintendents would review and approve superintendent salaries to ensure that they adhere to this policy.”

Merit Bonuses The plan would also provide non-pensionable bonuses based on criteria related to student performance.

  • The Department of Education would provide school boards with a list of state-approved quantitative and qualitative merit criteria. With executive county superintendent approval, boards could add one district-developed criterion.
  • From this list, boards would choose five criteria (three quantitative and two qualitative).
  • Executive county superintendents would assemble the data used to determine if the superintendent met the criteria.
  • Districts would reward superintendents with an individual-year merit stipend equal to 3.33 percent of base salary for each quantitative performance criterion achieved and 2.5 percent for each qualitative performance criterion achieved.

NJSBA supports the concept of merit-based bonuses tied to educational goals, noted Executive Director Bilik. “We advise school districts to establish such goals for their superintendents. It’s a critical part of the evaluation process,” she explained.

Administrative Costs While salaries of some individual superintendents have gained public attention, U.S. Department of Education statistics show that, in New Jersey, administrative spending (as a percentage of total expenditures) is lower than that of the vast majority of states.

The department’s National Center for Education Statistics indicates that New Jersey administrative spending is lower than that of 42 other states. The state’s public schools direct 9.5 percent of current expenditures toward central-office and school-level administration, as compared to a nationwide average of 10.8 percent. At the same time, New Jersey public school’s spending on instruction and student support services (71.9 percent of total expenditures) is higher than the nationwide average.


Student Enrollment


0 - 250


251 - 750


751 - 1,500


1,501 - 3,000


3,001 - 10,000


Over 10,000

Subject to separate rules developed by the Department of Education