Saturday, October 9, 2010

Ex-education chief says Christie was focused on battle with NJEA in Race to the Top application

Recent revelations under oath by former Education Commissioner Bret Schundler paints a graphic picture of Governor Christie being more concerned with battling the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) than securing over $400,000,000 in guaranteed federal funding for the education of the state's children. Hoboken residents also know Governor Christie as being Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer's education and civic government sage.

Unfortunately for the Governor, this issue does not seem to be going away anytime soon. Rather then obtain an additional 15 points on the grant application which would have secured the grant by reaching agreements with the NJEA, the Governor decided on trying to submit a weakened application without a partnership with the public school teachers of New Jersey. Christie is recognized for being fundamentally against organized labor. Political ambition often has a price. So far in New Jersey, it's $400,000,000 and counting.

An interesting note to the parents of students in the traditional Hoboken public the Governor's 2 visits to Hoboken under the Zimmer administration the Mayor has arranged visits to Hoboken Catholic School and Elysian Charter School.


TRENTON — So far, the biggest fight in the ongoing controversy over the state’s failed Race to the Top application has been about an accidental clerical error that cost the state $400 million. A deeper look at the state’s application may tell a different story.

Fired education commissioner Bret Schundler said, in interviews as he prepared to testify before the state Senate Thursday morning, the bigger problem was Gov. Chris Christie’s insistence on perpetuating his battle with New Jersey’s leading teachers union. If Christie had permitted Schundler to submit a Race to the Top application endorsed by the New Jersey Education Association, the state would have racked up more than enough points to win money in the competition for federal education reform dollars — despite the mistake that Schundler has taken the blame for.

"We have an opportunity to win here, with union support, which is a rare thing," Schundler said he told Christie. "He said he didn’t care about the money … He said he hadn’t gone through hell with (the NJEA) so he could then cave in to them now."

Schundler’s remarks shed new light on the controversial events of Memorial Day weekend when he and the NJEA announced a surprising agreement on the federal grant application’s proposals. Almost immediately, the governor reneged on the deal and filed a different submission in Washington, one which the teachers union opposed. At the time, Schundler took the blame for acting without the governor’s approval, a mea culpa that allowed him to keep his job even as some Trenton insiders suggested Christie would dismiss him right then.

Christie spokeswoman Maria Comella would not comment on Schundler’s statements.

NJEA spokesman Steve Wollmer said the union had been willing to make concessions.

"But that wasn’t enough for the governor," Wollmer said. "The governor made clear that he wasn’t interested in any of that collaboration. He basically said, ‘I don’t care.’"

Schundler said he will tell senators the changes by Christie’s team in the final application made it impossible for the NJEA to sign on but made little substantive difference. Christie balked at Schundler’s deal with the NJEA on merit pay for teachers and layoff rules.

Schundler said the deal was a good one for the state because it allowed the NJEA to endorse the application — something that could have been worth 15 additional points in the final judging.

"It seemed like a no-brainer," Schundler said.

By Jessica Calefati and Josh Margolin/The Star-Ledger

photo: Credit Andrew Tavani

Bret Schundler comments on firing as education commissioner