While touring Oakwood School, a non-profit, non-sectarian New Jersey Private School for the Disabled that serves adolescents with Asperger/Autism in Tinton Falls last March, Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande learned that the school’s enrollment had declined after the State instituted its cap on school superintendents’ salaries.
One of the exceptions to the superintendents’ salary cap are bonuses awarded for academic excellence. An administrator at Oakwood tipped Casagrande to the notion that superintendents could be keeping special needs students in their schools, to the academic and social detriment of the special needs and ‘normal’ students, in order to snag those $25,000 bonuses.
Freehold Regional High School District earned unwelcome notoriety for its largess with its previous superintendent, the phony Doctor H. James Wasser. Wasser’s replacement Charles Sampson, has a clause in his contract rewarding him for reducing the number of special needs students assigned to out-of-district schools like Oakwood, according to a December 2012 article in the News Transcript, a weekly newspaper serving Colts Neck, Englishtown, Freehold Borough and Township, Manalapan and Marlboro.
While not specifically pointing any fingers, Casagrande sees the potential for superintendents to put their bonuses, or ‘merit pay’ above the educational needs of special needs students, as it would be less expensive to warehouse a student with Autism in a classroom with an aide, than to enroll them in appropriate schools. She told MMM that she put herself in the shoes of parent already fighting for a special needs student and being confronted with an additional obstacle, a superintendent with a financial incentive to withhold the best educational opportunities.
Casagrande introduced Assembly bill # 3997 in early April. The bill prohibits school boards from paying superintendents bonuses for reducing the number of out-of-district placements of students with special needs. Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) is the bill’s co-sponsor.
A3997 unanimously cleared the Assembly Education Committee last week. It is scheduled to be voted on by the entire Assembly on Thursday.