PRINCETON: School board approves merit pay bonus for superintendent

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
The Princeton school board on Tuesday approved paying $19,530 in merit bonuses to Superintendent Stephen C. Cochrane for meeting a series of district goals during the past school year.
School board President Andrea Spalla said the board last year had established five goals, which among other things included his working on developing a strategic plan for the district and expanding home Internet access to students of low-income families.
In September, the board evaluated him against those goals and then decided he had met four out of the five, officials said. The size of the merit pay is established by state regulations, and came out to 11.66 percent of his $167,500 base salary.
Per those regulations, interim-Mercer County Superintendent of Schools Laura C. Morana had to approve the payment, Ms. Spalla said. The school board vote on Tuesday was unanimous.
Merit pay is a way for superintendents to increase their compensation in a state where their salaries are regulated.
In New Jersey, superintendents work under a salary cap that is tied to the size of their districts’ enrollment, said Michael Yaple, a spokesman for the state Department of Education.
Gov. Chris Christie championed the salary cap as a way to end what he saw as “abuses” going on around the state involving superintendents earning big salaries despite leading districts of fewer than 1,000 children.
“Capping pay to reasonable levels is a commonsense initiative that will end abuses that have been permitted for too long at the expense of our children’s education,” he said in November 2010, the year the regulations were announced.
Merit pay bonuses are allowed but they cannot exceed 15 percent of a superintendent’s salary, those regulations say. Merit pay is considered “extra compensation” that does not count toward Mr. Cochrane’s pension.
Ms. Spalla said the state regulations creating the salary cap also established how school boards evaluate their superintendents. “The board can set merit goals every year, and the merit goals have to follow a certain kind of format,” she said.
It is up to the board to determine if the goals had been met, she said.
The cap took effect in 2011, a move that raised concern that higher paid, veteran superintendents would leave New Jersey for states without salary caps. Princeton experienced that firsthand.
Mr. Cochrane’s predecessor, Judith A. Wilson, earned more than $200,000 a year, but she left the district at the end of 2013 before her contract expired. She had inked her deal before the cap took effect, but would have faced a hefty pay cut as part of any new contract to continue working in Princeton. 