New Jersey School Chief Fired Following Race to the Top Snafu
New Jersey Education Commissioner Bret Schundler has become a high-profile casualty of Race to the Top. Gov. Chris Christie (R) announced Friday that Schundler, the former Jersey City mayor and outspoken proponent of school choice, has been fired because of the poor explanation the state gave for an error on its federal grant application.
The Garden State was not among the 10 winners named this week in the second and final round of the $3.4 billion federal grant competition. An incorrect Excel spreadsheet mistakenly included in the state’s application cost New Jersey five points, which caused it to fall just short of the top 10. The state reportedly erred in describing how school funding would increase in fiscal year 2011.
It was a $400 million mistake.
Christie on Wednesday criticized the Obama administration’s “lack of common sense” for refusing to accept verbal confirmation of the correct budget numbers reportedly missing in the state’s Race to the Top paperwork.
“This is the stuff that drives people crazy about government, about Washington,” Christie told reporters following a bill signing ceremony.
But the New Jersey Star-Ledger later published excerpts of a video clip from New Jersey’s interview with Race to the Top application reviewers in Washington, DC, showing the state delegation was unable to provide the correct budget information immediately. When asked again 30 minutes later, the video shows the delegation still didn’t have the additional information.
The video evidence apparently was enough to lead Christie to his decision to fire Schundler.
“I was extremely disappointed to learn that the videotape of the Race to the Top presentation was not consistent with the information provided to me by the New Jersey Department of Education and which I then conveyed to the people of New Jersey,” Christie said in a statement released Friday. “As a result, I ordered an end to Bret Schundler’s service as New Jersey’s education commissioner and as a member of my administration.”
“As I have said before, I never promised the people of New Jersey that this would be a mistake-free administration. However, I did promise that the people serving in my administration would be held accountable for their actions,” Christie continued. “As I said on Wednesday, I am accountable for what occurs in my administration. I regret this mistake was made and will do all I can to have my administration avoid them in the future.”
Schundler told the Star-Ledger on Friday he regretted the outcome. “As someone who’s appreciated the value of these reforms for 20 years and thought through how they all worked together, I think that I could have made sure they were implemented exceedingly well,” he said. “I’m incredibly disappointed and this opportunity to work in the department was really a life's dream.”
Ben Boychuk (firstname.lastname@example.org) is managing editor of School Reform News.