Gov. Chris Christie fired state education commissioner Bret Schundler this morning after Schundler refused to resign in the wake of the controversy over the state's loss of up to $400 million in federal school funding.
"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," Christie said in a press release. "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."
Rich Bagger, Christie's chief of staff, asked Schundler to resign on Thursday evening because he "misled" the governor and senior staff about what happened during a presentation in Washington, D.C., the officials said.
On Wednesday, Christie publicly said Schundler had tried to give the correct information to a bungled question during the presentation, but video from the U.S. Department of Education released Thursday proved that did not happen.
But after Christie and other top officials on Thursday watched the video of Schundler and other officials' presentation to the U.S. Department of Education, and the video contradicted Schundler's explanation, the governor said, "He can't lie to me," the source said.
Ah, but it gets better. Much better.
Earlier this week, Christie blamed the Obama administration for New Jersey's not winning any RttT money and said this incident was just another example of why government doesn't work:
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie blasted the Department of Education and its Race to the Top program on Wednesday after the department rejected his state's application for up to $400 million in grants —because of what amounted to a clerical error.
New Jersey was in the running for up to $400 million in grants, but walked away empty-handed in part because the state was docked 5 points for an error in their application — and the penalty put them below the 440-point threshold to qualify for the money.
"This is the stuff, candidly, that drives people crazy about government and crazy about Washington," Christie said on Tuesday. "Does anybody in Washington, D.C., have a lick of common sense?"
States earn points in a 500- point system for submitting a variety of information on their reform plans in their grant applications. Many states frantically sought to boost their point totals, sometimes by rushing to pass needed legislation before the June 1 deadline.
New Jersey lost points for providing incorrect information in response to a question about the state’s funding levels. Instead of providing information about the 2008-09 school year, as the application question asked, state administrators provided information about their budgets for the upcoming 2011 school year.
Christie conceded that his state made a mistake, but argued that an administrative error — one page in a 1,000-page document — should not be used to deny his state millions in federal funding for schools.
But the Department of Education maintains that they have to stick to a very strict application deadline in order to keep the system fair for all of the other state applicants.
Want to know why the information on the New Jersey application was wrong?
It wasn't wrong because of the unions.
It wasn't wrong because of mid-level bureaucrats (as Christie said.)
It was wrong because Chris Christie HIMSELF changed it:
The New Jersey Teachers Association produced a version as of May 27 of the bungled answer — from a draft including compromises later jettisoned — that included information for the correct budget years. The NJEA said the paper proved the administration had changed it in the process of re-writing the application to take out the compromises with the state's largest teachers union, which has been Christie's most vocal combatant during his first year as governor. The application was submitted June 1.
The reason the information was changed is because Christie didn't like a compromise forged between the NJEA and Education Commissioner Schundler on merit pay.
Here is a story from back in May on the merit pay compromise and why Christie rejected it:
Gov. Chris Christie continued to publicly criticize his own education commissioner today, ignoring the teachers’ union’s claim that he is undermining the credibility of one of the state’s most important officers.
The governor also renewed his attacks on New Jersey Education Association, and said he doesn’t believe his rejection of an agreement worked out by Commissioner Bret Schundler and the union will endanger the state’s application for up to $400 million in federal school funding.
“I made the choice to be bold,” Christie said, “not only because I want it to be successful but it’s because that’s what I agree with.”
But Christie said the deal Schundler worked out with the teachers last Thursday was one-way in favor of the NJEA. “That’s why I rejected it.”
Christie made his comments a day after publicly scolding Schundler for agreeing to compromises on teacher tenure and merit pay - which were to be part of the application for $400,000 in Race to the Top funding from the Obama administration.
During an exclusive interview, Christie said Schundler was never empowered to negotiate away key provisions of the governor’s education agenda and any impression to the contrary was wrong. The governor said the deal Schundler reached with the union did nothing but cave in to the NJEA and gut his plan for improving state schools. Christie said he heard Thursday night that an accord had been reached but knew no details.
“I did not hear any of the specifics of what Bret suggested we agree to until Friday morning. I called him and told him that was unacceptable to me,” the governor said.
The governor ordered the state education department to rewrite the part of the application that pertained to the compromise reached between Schundler and the NJEA that Christie ultimately overruled.
The only problem - the governor screwed up the numbers.
And rather than accept the blame and responsibility that this was HIS screw-up, he first blamed the mistake on the Obama administration, then a mid-level bureaucrat, and now Bret Schundler.
Is Schundler a lying weasel for allegedly telling Christie he corrected the mistake on the application at the in-person presentation when the video tape clearly shows he did no such thing.
Should he lose his job for that lie?
But Chris Christie, who is very big on pointing fingers and holding teachers and union members "responsible," is shirking the responsibility he bears for screwing up the application.
State Dems are going to investigate how the mistake was made and hold the people responsible accountable.
Well, let the investigation lead where it may, the facts available publicly clearly show where the responsibility lies - on Chris Christie.