MADISON, NJ – Town residents challenged the Madison Board of Education Tuesday night to consider sharing a superintendent with a neighboring town as a way to address the state imposed salary cap issue.
“Can someone please explain to me what the cons are if we have a shared superintendent?,” asked Madison resident Karen Szotak at the board's meeting on Tuesday at the Madison High School Media Center.
In July, Governor Chris Christie imposed a salary cap on superintendents’ salaries that would limit pay to $175,000 for top officials with more than 10,000 students as a way of addressing the state budget shortfall. The Madison school system educates around 2,400 students.
There has been nothing short of upheaval ever since, with school boards across the state scrambling to compensate for suddenly retiring sitting superintendents and budget constraints of their own.
Madison is an example of the upheaval. Its former superintendent, Richard Noonan, whose annual salary was $288,000 decided to retire in October for a similar role in Pennsylvania rather than take what would have been more than a $50,000 pay cut.
Board member Dale Arthur said a shared superintendent “looks like a great way to save money but for every reason there is to do it, there’s a reason not to do it. The harder decision, however, is making the correct call (on the right candidate). ”
Two of the town's names bandied about as possible partners in a shared superintendent situation were Harding Township or perhaps the Chathams. Arthur said Harding was not interested, although talks were continuing with Harding Board of Education President James Novotny, who represents Harding as member of the Madison board.
“If we don’t have a superintendent (for Madison) there are things that will not get done,” Novotny said. “Great things took place when we had a superintendent here. Having someone in the district, moving things forward – somebody needs to be there doing that. If you split him, I think it’s a step back.”
The board has just begun the hiring process to find a new superintendent. As part of the interview process, candidates have been asked for their opinion on a superintendent shared among two or more towns.
“Not a single one thought though that a shared superintendent would be a slam dunk. They all said there would be issues that would need to be addressed,” said board member Pat Rowe, “although none of them said it was impossible.”
“Nothing is ever off the table in this tough economic environment," said Board President Lisa Ellis said. “A lot would have to evolve, the person will have to be willing, and their board would have to decide what’s best for their district.”