Brian Zychowski, the North Brunswick schools superintendent, is considered a leading candidate to replace state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf who is leaving at the end of the month. Gov. Chris Christie has appointed Zychowski to a number of important state commissions. The governor and Zychowski are Mendham neighbors and friends and Zychowski coached Christie’s daughter, a member of a local basketball team. And, finally, Christie apparently has overlooked Zychowski’s salary which goes far beyond the state caps imposed with both anger and some fanfare by the governor.
It’s apparently good to have a good friend and neighbor who is governor.
Zychowski makes $206,237 a year. According to the caps imposed by the governor in February, 2011, he should only be making $165,000 a year. If he is offered and takes the education commissioner’s job, he will be making only $141,000 a year.
What is also curious about Zychowski’s salary contract is its timing. It appeared to be timed to avoid the pay cut hundreds of other superintendents faced because of Christie’s insistence on cutting what he called “lavish” spending on the salaries of local school chiefs.
According to Zychowski, he began negotiations with the North Brunswick school board in July of 2010, a year before his first contract expired. He had been hired for $175,000. He doesn’t give a date but the governor initially said he would try to cap superintendents’ salaries– also in July, 2010. On Nov. 1, Christie announced the regulations imposing ceilings on the salaries for the local school executives.
“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,” Christie said. “By bringing superintendent salaries in-line with district needs, we will be able to save millions in tax dollars and put that money back where it belongs – in the classrooms.”
The regulations were to go into effect Feb. 7 but, to prevent a mad rush to revise contracts beyond the caps, Christie ordered county superintendents not to approve new contracts until then. In effect, the regulations went into practical operation immediately.
To show he meant business, the governor made an issue out of one superintendent. He angrily denounced the Parsippany-Troy Hills school district for approving a contract extension for its superintendent and ridiculed the educator, LeRoy Seitz, as “the poster boy for all that’s wrong with the public school system.”
In one of his infamous town hall meetings, the governor lit into Seitz and said he would “help him pack” if he wanted to quit and take a job in another state that had no salary caps.
The date is important. The date of the town hall meeting and the date of the Parsippany-Troy Hills board meeting approving a new five-year contract with two percent raises each year for Seitz was the same–Nov. 9, 2010.
Want to know when the North Brunswick school board—and the state-appointed county superintendent–approved Zychowski’s five-year contract with two percent raises?
Nov. 10, 2010. Just one day later.
Just one day after Christie mocked and ridiculed Seitz and the Parsippany-Troy Hills school board, his friend and neighbor from Mendham got pretty much the same deal and the loud mouth of the governor was not heard.
It’s called favoritism and, as Christie, the former US Attorney, well knows, using your office to do favors for friends could be a violation of 18 U.S.C. 1346 that forbids any “scheme or artifice” that deprives anyone of “the intangible right of honest services.” That’s the same law Christie as the phony crusader against crime and corruption used to snag political rivals and enemies, including former Newark Mayor Sharpe James.
Just my opinion–but I think any public official who privately helps friends gain a benefit while denying it to others just might be in violation of 18 U.S.C 1346.
Seitz, by all accounts, was one of the best superintendents in the state—but this is what Christie said about him at that town hall meeting: “We have real problems in our state that we have to fix and we don’t have the time, nor the money, nor the patience any longer for people who put themselves before our citizens.”
The governor also threatened to withhold more than $3 million state aid unless the district rescinded its contract—the board finally did do just that. Seitz, who lost a lawsuit seeking to have his raise reinstated, retired in 2013 and local news stories still referred to him as a “poster boy for greed.”
Wouldn’t that all make Brian Zychowski also a person “who put themselves before our citizens”? Apparently. But that didn’t prevent Christie from naming him to a state commission that came up with a new teacher evaluation system. The governor praised Zychowki for helping to devise “a blueprint for remaking public education in the state and refocusing the fundamental goals of the system to center on high student achievement and results for children.”
Zychowski was named to head the New Jersey Educators Effectiveness Task Force just two weeks before Zychowski got his five-year contract extension and cap-busting raise.
What Christie called “greed” in another superintendent also apparently didn’t prevent the governor from naming Zychowski to yet another task force in 2013—the New Jersey SAFE Task Force that offered weak recommendations on gun control.
Other school superintendents also make more than the caps allow. Newark’s Cami Anderson, for example, makes $240,000 and just received from Christie a $50,000 “performance” bonus.
Zychowski was asked whether he or the North Brunswick school board was given inside information that led them to negotiate the contract earlier. He didn’t answer.
That’s not the point. The point is that a friend and neighbor of Chris Christie got special treatment.
But, maybe, that’s just not news anymore.