Gov. Christie shed lots of credibility in the blundering drama that led him to fire his hand-picked education commissioner, Bret Schundler.
For those of you who may have been in a news blackout at the Shore, you missed a riveting show this week. It began when the U.S. Education Department decided not to award New Jersey $400 million in a school grant program called “Race to the Top.” (Pennsylvania didn’t win a grant, either).
Ten states received this coveted aid. The federal government rated states’ applications on a numerical system, awarding points in several categories that reflected each state’s level of commitment to education reform.
New Jersey just missed out, coming in 11th place, three points below Ohio. A search for blame ensued.
It turned out that New Jersey’s application omitted requested data from the state’s 2008 and 2009 budgets. Instead, it contained information from the 2011 budget.
Christie held a news conference and took responsibility, sort of, for the “clerical error.” But Gov. Bully-In-A-China-Shop spent far more time railing against Washington bureaucrats for being too lazy to pick up a phone and ask Trenton for the correct information.
The governor said Schundler had even supplied the correct information verbally on Aug. 11 in a meeting with U.S. education officials. But the diabolical Obama administration still wouldn’t give New Jersey credit on its application.
“When the president comes back to New Jersey, he’s going to have to explain to the people of the state of New Jersey why he’s depriving them of $400 million,” Christie said.
It was a wow-factor, half-hour, mad-as-hell soliloquy against Washington bureaucrats and Obama. Perhaps Christie’s staff has started to believe those murmurs about 2012, because they distributed a full transcript and links to the audio of his diatribe that same day.
But a day later, the governor was treated to a video recording of Schundler’s appearance in Washington on Aug. 11. In it, federal officials are heard asking Schundler and his aides twice for the missing budget data. Team New Jersey was unable to locate it, at least while the cameras were rolling.
Based on this, Christie decided Schundler had misled him. He asked for Schundler’s resignation, didn’t get it, and fired him.
It wasn’t the first time Christie and Schundler got into a high-profile dispute. In May, Christie rejected a deal that Schundler negotiated with the New Jersey Education Association to get the teacher union’s support for the “Race to the Top” application. For Christie, the NJEA remains the evil empire.
After Christie blew up the compromise with the NJEA, the state’s application had to be changed to meet the deadline. It makes you wonder if the governor’s Pavlovian animosity for the NJEA contributed to the “clerical error” in rushing to complete a revised application.
If Schundler did mislead his boss, he had to go. But Christie embarrassed himself in this episode, looking impulsive and too eager to cast aspersions before he had all the facts. None of it stands to improve education in New Jersey.