James Crisfield, the superintendent of Millburn’s public schools, was among the last class of New Jersey school leaders to seal his contract before Gov. Chris Christie imposed strict salary caps on superintendent pay.
In the four years since, the caps have been as controversial as anything on Christie’s education agenda, with some saying it gave the system a needed jolt, while others claim it has led to an exodus of talented leaders.
And now, Crisfield has bolstered the arguments of the latter camp, announcing this week that he has taken the superintendent post in the Wissahickon School District in Montgomery County, Pa., near Philadelphia — in large part due to the salary constraints he faced in New Jersey once his contract expired.
As leader of one of the New Jersey’s highest-performing districts, Crisfield’s departure is among the highest-profile exits to date. Following are excerpts from an interview with NJ Spotlight’s John Mooney.
Q: So, tell me what happened in your decision?
I always thought I’d finish out my career in Millburn. It’s a great district and I can’t think of one any better. But then things happened. I had my pay frozen for the last four years, which I found reasonable given the economic times. But then once my contract expires this coming June, I would have been subject to a 24 percent pay cut, and that just didn’t seem reasonable, not something I thought was fair and certainly not something the local board thought of. But the rules are the rules.
Q: What is that salary?
My current salary is $219,500. It’s a little crass to bring the numbers up, but when you talk about the percentage cut, I’m 50 and I’m not close enough to the end that I can look the other way. Wissahickon will be $215,000, plus a 5 percent annuity.
Q: Was the cap the primary reason?
It wasn’t primary. But would I have been looking? Probably not. But I am grateful for finding Wissahickon, absolutely, I am very grateful to have found it.
Q: What would have the cap lowered your salary to?
Millburn under the cap would have paid $165,000, and you also get $2,500 bonus for having a high school. That’s all a high school is worth — $2,500. I can tell you, there is more than $2,500 worth of issues in a high school.
There are also merit pay opportunities, and they are heavily bureaucratic. My thought on that is if the head of the organization is receiving merit pay and the rest isn’t, that doesn’t sit right.
Q: You are not the first in Essex County to leave the state, at least in part due to the caps.
I know of a number of vacancies now. I know Livingston has an interim superintendent, South Orange-Maplewood is also looking. I find it impossible to believe someone would not have figured out this effect when they put it in. And if a reasonable person could predict this, why then would they do it?
Read the full interview on NJSpolight.