N.J. Schools Chief Fired Over Race to Top Gaffe

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie last week fired his appointed education commissioner, Bret Schundler, in the wake of a paperwork gaffe that may have cost the state a $400 million Race to the Top grant.

The Aug. 27 announcement followed days of fingerpointing over who was responsible for the error on the 1,000-page applicationRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader, which cost the state 5 points. New Jersey scored 437.8 out of 500 possible points, just behind Ohio, which earned a score of 440.8 and was the 10th and final applicant that qualified for funding.

The firing came after Gov. Christie had defended the state’s round-two application, saying that New Jersey officials had tried to alert federal reviewers to the error during a videotaped, in-person presentation. But the subsequent release of that video made it appear that federal officials—not the state—flagged the error and that state officials were unable to provide the correct information.

“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 conveyed to the people of New Jersey,” Gov. Christie said in a statement. “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.”

Mr. Schundler had made no comment on the firing as of press time Friday.

Earlier in the week, Gov. Christie denounced the application reviewers—and the Obama administration directly—for not being willing to overlook what he called a “clerical error.”

“If you are a normal, thinking, breathing human being, you pick up the phone and say, ‘Hey, you sent this one wrong paper; can we get the information?’ ” Gov. Christie said.

The application had asked states to compare spending on education in fiscal 2008 and 2009. New Jersey mistakenly responded by discussing proposed education spending increases for fiscal 2011, which resulted in the reviewers’ docking the points and noting the error.

Controversy had dogged the state’s application earlier, when Gov. Christie rejected a compromise that Mr. Schundler had arranged with a state teachers’ union on tenure and merit pay. The governor, who has feuded with the union, called the arrangement a “contrived consensus” and removed it from the final application.

New Jersey was not the only state to make a mistake on a Race to the Top proposal. In round one, Hawaii mistakenly omitted a section of its application on ensuring equitable distribution of teachers and principals, costing it 25 points, said Robert Campbell, the executive assistant for school reform for the state education department.

For round two, Hawaii filled in the gap—and walked away a winner, with $75 million.

Vol. 30, Issue 02, Page 16

Published in Print: September 1, 2010, as N.J. Schools Chief Fired Over Race to Top Gaffe
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