Accelify Blog

Many Private Schools Pay More Than Limit Proposed by Governor (NJ)

August 20, 2010

It’s not clear whether salary caps that Gov. Chris Christie wants for New Jersey’s school superintendents would apply to private schools funded with tax dollars.

An analysis by The Record newspaper found more than 60 administrators for the state’s 171 private special education schools earn more than the $175,000 cap.

None of the state’s special education private schools had more than 460 students last year.

Education Department spokesman Alan Guenther said the rules still are being drafted and will be presented in September, but the governor’s spokesman indicated that the cap should be consistent for all state-paid school administrator salaries.

Pay levels at special private schools are controlled by the state because most of the money the schools make is from tuition paid by the public schools that send students.

For the 2009-10 school year, the state Education Department capped compensation for administrators at private special education schools at $215,000 no matter how many students there were.

"I don’t know how we could justify salaries of $215,000 or more for superintendents o r CEOs of schools with 500 or less students, even considering those are special needs students. Not when we’re applying a salary cap significantly lower for superintendents supervising public school districts with multiples of that number of students," said Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak.

According to The Record, the state could save nearly $2 million in tuition if the cap is applied to the private schools.

Gerard Thiers, executive director of the Association of Schools and Agencies for the Handicapped, said the schools are adhering to the cap that is in place. He said most special education school chiefs earn $150,000 on average, according to a recent survey.

"Special education by its nature is very expensive," Thiers said, adding that private schools directors also have additional tasks that traditional superintendents might not, such as fundraising and negotiating with vendors.

At the Institute for Educational Achievement in New Milford, a nonprofit school for children with autism, executive director Dawn B. Townsend was paid nearly $199,000 last year — a year when IEA accepted 28 students.

A message left for Townsend by the Associated Press on Thursday was not immediately returned.

ECLC of New Jersey, which has special education schools in Chatham and Ho-Ho-Kus, taught 333 students last year; its adult programs served dozens more.

Executive director Bruce Litinger made $222,959 and was allowed to exceed the cap because he oversaw the non-school programs.

"If they changed that state salary requirement, we would comply with it," said ECLC business manager Jean Earle.&lt ;br />

Litinger was on vacation on Thursday and other ECLC school officials did not immediately return calls for comment from The AP.

The governor makes $175,000 a year. In July, he proposed limiting pay for school superintendents and other administrators to a maximum of $175,000 based on district size. There must be at least 10,000 students in the district for a superintendent to be paid that much.

The top salary for a district with fewer than 250 students would be $120,000 for the superintendent.

According to the governor’s office, the proposal would mean pay cuts for 366 public superintendents at the end of their contracts, saving school districts $9.8 million.