Christie fires education commissioner after video contradicts claims; Update: Schundler asked to be fired

posted at 1:30 pm on August 27, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

It didn’t take long for Chris Christie to react to a video of his education commissioner that contradicted his public assertion that New Jersey had supplied the correct numbers for the Race to the Top fund in Washington.  Christie fired Bret Schundler after the video from the Race to the Top review showed that Schundler had not provided the numbers in question:

Gov. Chris Christie, reacting swiftly to a brewing crisis over a failed federal grant application, has fired Department of Education Commissioner Bret Schundler.

Schundler was let go by Christie this morning following the release of a video by the federal Department of Education that contradicted Schundler’s assertion that he provided federal Race to the Top grant application reviewers with correct state aid numbers after an error in the documents was revealed.

“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. 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,” Christie said in a statement issued at 12:30 p.m. today.

Christie had relied on Schundler’s insistence that his team had provided the data to the Obama administration to blast the White House for being too rigid about paperwork rather than relying on the data.  The Department of Education responded by publishing the review video, putting Christie in a tough spot.  He had little choice but to give a strong reaction to the revelation.

Not that Schundler didn’t deserve it, if the evidence is complete.  Not only did his team botch the presentation, he apparently deceived his boss about the situation rather than just admit to the error.  Executives can deal with failure, but deception is another thing entirely.  If an executive can’t trust his staff, then he or she has to find replacements more worthy of trust.  That’s probably more true in politics than in the private sector, but it’s true enough in all arenas to know that Schundler couldn’t expect to keep his job after this.

By taking action, Christie can minimize the embarrassment, but it’s not going to be an overall plus for him; it will just limit the damage and bring the incident to a swift conclusion.

Update: This won’t improve matters:

Ousted New Jersey Education Commissioner Bret Schundler told the Newark Star Ledger he asked Gov. Chris Christie (R) to be fired rather than resign, so he could receive unemployment benefits.

Said Schundler: “I asked if they would mind writing a termination letter, instead of a resignation letter, because I do have a mortgage to pay, and I do have a daughter who’s just started college. And I, frankly, will need the unemployment insurance benefits until I find another job… And they said fine. They said sure.”

I know that some expressed disappointment in Schundler’s dismissal because he had been seen as an up-and-comer in conservative reformers.  Instead of doing the honorable thing and resigning, he waited for Christie to fire him so he could get cash from the public dole.  Something tells me that the star has dimmed considerably for Schundler after this.


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Christie gives me the nethervapors.

Monica on August 27, 2010 at 2:13 PM

Um, is that like gas?

NJ Red on August 27, 2010 at 3:24 PM

ED: so he could get cash from the public dole.

He did pay into it earned what little he will get, unless he goes past his original 26 weeks, then he will be on the public dole.

WoosterOh on August 27, 2010 at 3:28 PM

“Fired for cause” ain’t gonna get ya squat, slick.

mojo on August 27, 2010 at 3:29 PM

Um, is that like gas?

NJ Red on August 27, 2010 at 3:24 PM

No, you’re thinking of an Olbermann. ;)

Ace (at AOS) said once that Chris Christie gives him the coochie sweats and that seemed too vulgar a term to use here, though it amused me to no end. When I posted earlier, nether vapors seemed less vulgar but upon further reflection, I was mistaken. However, that it grossed out proud rino is a plus so nether vapors stands.

Monica on August 27, 2010 at 3:30 PM

I was mistaken. However, that it grossed out proud rino is a plus so nether vapors stands.

Monica on August 27, 2010 at 3:30 PM

Works for me!! I have nether vapors for Christie also.

NJ Red on August 27, 2010 at 3:36 PM

You people are disgusting.

Proud Rino on August 27, 2010 at 3:42 PM

Chris Cristie: If he were to punch you in the face, you’d have to fight the strong urge to thank him

MattUF on August 27, 2010 at 3:42 PM

“Fired for cause” ain’t gonna get ya squat, slick.

mojo on August 27, 2010 at 3:29 PM

It depends on whether the employer (State of NJ) is willing to defend the firing for cause. If not, UIB will be granted. If so, they will have to go before a hearing officer to present their case that the cause is clearly laid out in their employee manual.

Frequently, employers choose to not defend cause cases when ‘professionals’ are involved.

This firing may get a bit of scrutiny.

GnuBreed on August 27, 2010 at 3:44 PM

Instead of doing the honorable thing and resigning, he waited for Christie to fire him so he could get cash from the public dole.

But isn’t that what this whole stinky mess is about? He (or someone in his department) made a mistake that cost NJ “cash from the public dole.”

Sorry. I thought Christie was different, but seems to me a true fiscal conservative would be against this entire federal boondoggle. Why should all American taxpayers have to pony up so the fed can reward a few select (and mostly blue, imagine that) states? Because, you know, the educational system in DC is so inovative and the rest of us can learn sooo much from them. (What not to do, mostly.)

CJ on August 27, 2010 at 3:45 PM

I don’t think this is too bad for Christie – he went off on the WH because he relied on someone who lied to him. That’s not Christie’s fault. And he cleaned up the mess immediately.

When have you ever seen a liberal do that? There’s no investigation dragging out at taxpayers expense, no press posturing – rotten apple booted out of barrel and back to work they go.

Why, it’s a teachable moment (cough cough Rangel cough cough Waters cough cough)

ace tomato on August 27, 2010 at 3:48 PM

Y-Not, don’t you see how screwed up this is? schuldner screws up royally, is fired for malfeasance and gets to collect unemployment which, not sure about NJ, but at least in NY is entirely funded by employers for the next 99 weeks?

anna on August 27, 2010 at 3:51 PM

CJ on August 27, 2010 at 3:45 PM

The Feds were going to dole out the money anyway, and it was supposed to go to states that propose major education reforms including stuff like merit pay for teachers that the NJEA hates. Winning it would have been a very good way for Christie to split the NJEA from the Obama Administration. Not to mention that the $400 million would help him balance next year’s budget without raising taxes or cutting other progams.

The NJEA dug in its heels on some reforms and refused to sign off on the state’s application for the first round of Race to the Top, and Christie successfully pressured them into some major concessions to get them to sign off on this application. It’s a pretty big fail for his reform agenda to lose this money, because it is tied to specific reforms that he probaly won’t get through the legislature on his own.

The cynic in me thinks that Bret Schundler may have screwed this up on purpose because he wanted to make the big education reforms himself and get the credit for them. Like I said, he has political ambitions and Christie’s growing popularity wasn’t doing much for his career.

rockmom on August 27, 2010 at 3:52 PM

Something tells me that the star has dimmed considerably for Schundler after this.

Schundler is toast.

This whole incident pretty much shines on the differences between how the Republicans and Democrats handle incompetence and corruption.

Republicans distance themselves from those exposed of wrongdoing, corruption, and fraud (i.e. Mark Foley for one). Democrats circle the wagons and protect them to the bitter end. The resources are almost endless here. Charlie Rangel, and William Jefferson Clinton are glaring examples.

Don’t think that the voters don’t notice, especially that large independent block.

simkeith on August 27, 2010 at 3:54 PM

You people are disgusting.

Proud Rino on August 27, 2010 at 3:42 PM

What do you mean by “you people”?

Nethicus on August 27, 2010 at 3:54 PM

What do you mean by “you people”?

Nethicus on August 27, 2010 at 3:54 PM

He means ladies who, metaphorically, have the HOTS for Christie.

NJ Red on August 27, 2010 at 4:06 PM

You people are disgusting.

Proud Rino on August 27, 2010 at 3:42 PM

racist

Monica on August 27, 2010 at 4:07 PM

You people are disgusting.

Proud Rino on August 27, 2010 at 3:42 PM

What do you mean by “you people”?

Nethicus on August 27, 2010 at 3:54 PM

The Unproud Rinos

He means ladies who, metaphorically, have the HOTS for Christie.

NJ Red on August 27, 2010 at 4:06 PM

Heh, the men have the hots for him too. This, and the nonchalance about Mehlman, is going to drive the left bonkers.

Schadenfreude on August 27, 2010 at 4:08 PM

You people are disgusting.

Proud Rino on August 27, 2010 at 3:42 PM

Sorry that vag talk scares you.

ClassicCon on August 27, 2010 at 4:12 PM

You people are disgusting.

Proud Rino on August 27, 2010 at 3:42 PM

Would you rather Monica had said “cootchie sweats?”

UltimateBob on August 27, 2010 at 4:14 PM

You people are disgusting.

Proud Rino on August 27, 2010 at 3:42 PM

You are a racist southern kkk’er.

Inanemergencydial on August 27, 2010 at 4:43 PM

I still think Christie was wrong on this one. If he is a real conservative, he would be joining the ever increasing voices to abolish the DOE. I understand the money is out there, BUT IT WILL PUT THE STATES FURTHER INTO DEBT as it tries to fulfill the mandates put forth by the DOE. The money is really a check for more debt. It won’t take care of the problems, it will only create more!

Christie would have more respect from me if he would join the ever increasing chorus of those who don’t like onerous federal intervention:

http://missourieducationwatchdog.blogspot.com/2010/08/calls-for-abolishment-of-department-of.html

I’m really, really disappointed in him. He was my heartthrob.

manateespirit on August 27, 2010 at 4:48 PM

I’m shocked! That the New Jersey Department of Education would obfuscate is so out of character. Never!

maverick muse on August 27, 2010 at 4:58 PM

If you resign because you are asked to resign, you are eligible for unemployment. He could have took the politically expedient way out, still got his unemployment, and been in a better spot going forward to get another job. What a maroon.

Anon Y. Mous on August 27, 2010 at 4:59 PM

I was mistaken. However, that it grossed out proud rino is a plus so nether vapors stands.

Monica on August 27, 2010 at 3:30 PM

Works for me!! I have nether vapors for Christie also.

NJ Red on August 27, 2010 at 3:36 PM

Conservative women not only look hotter than liberals, they think hotter too.

Vashta.Nerada on August 27, 2010 at 5:07 PM

and been in a better spot going forward to get another job. What a maroon.

The whole country knows he got fired for lying to his boss. Fired, resigned, makes no difference; any future employer is going to know about this.

NeighborhoodCatLady on August 27, 2010 at 5:10 PM

Would you rather Monica had said “cootchie sweats?”

UltimateBob on August 27, 2010 at 4:14 PM

I think every comment from monica should try and work in “coochie sweats” somehow.

lorien1973 on August 27, 2010 at 5:16 PM

Just wait till Schundler finds out what unemployment pays and the hoops he has to jump through to get his check.

He’d have been a lot smarter to just resign with some dignity. It certainly isn’t gonna do much for college tuition.

marybel on August 27, 2010 at 5:25 PM

This is the bigger story – how stupid Wash. D.C. is, while not minimizing the clerk’s error and deception…

Schadenfreude on August 27, 2010 at 1:42 PM

This is exactly what Bambi the progressive scum want. Screw up everything in endless tedious bureaucracy.

Drill_Thrawl on August 27, 2010 at 5:29 PM

Sorry. I thought Christie was different, but seems to me a true fiscal conservative would be against this entire federal boondoggle.

Unfortunately, the people of New Jersey (red, blue, and in between — which is purple, I guess) have been paying into it, and he knows that. He may be thinking of them, instead of how it makes him look. What’s more, if his efforts continue, such handouts (if you want to call them that) may not be necessary. I’d like to hear about a state that doesn’t accept this kind of aid.

manwithblackhat on August 27, 2010 at 5:36 PM

He’d have been a lot smarter to just resign with some dignity. It certainly isn’t gonna do much for college tuition.

marybel on August 27, 2010 at 5:25 PM

I’m guessing his kid is at Princeton or Harvard. He went to Harvard.

rockmom on August 27, 2010 at 5:37 PM

flaccid.

ted c on August 27, 2010 at 6:00 PM

He did not pay into unemployment…his employer ( the tax payers) did!!!!

In my state if there is just cause for termination..he cannot collect even if he is FIRED!

Lying and making you boss look stupid is grounds for termination

silvercreeklady on August 27, 2010 at 6:20 PM

Executives can deal with failure, but deception is another thing entirely. If an executive can’t trust his staff, then he or she has to find replacements more worthy of trust.

You’ve helped me understand that I’m not here chiefly because I’m a good citizen, but chiefly because I want intellectually stimulating news and analysis, leavened with clever wit, if possible. You lose me when you belabor the obvious.

Kralizec on August 27, 2010 at 6:37 PM

In my state if there is just cause for termination..he cannot collect even if he is FIRED!

I don’t think you can collect in FL, if you are fired, but I’m not sure. I’ve only had to let people go cuz of the economy not cuz of incompetence.

lorien1973 on August 27, 2010 at 6:43 PM

Isn’t asking to be fired the same thing as resigning?

JimP on August 27, 2010 at 8:11 PM

Rumor is going around in Trenton that Schundler is basically broke. Lived high on his Wall Street earnings and investments during the boom and made very little actual income from work in the last 10 years, and lost a ton when the market crashed. Maybe he really does need the unemployment benefits. The whole thing still seems fishy to me.

I also think questions need to be raised about DoE’s actions here. It’s no secret that Schundler has a lot of enemies in the education world, and with Arne Duncan being a Chicago crony of Obama, one could certainly speculate that this was a White House orchestrated effort to embarrass Chris Christie. And it also strikes me as no coincidence that New Jersey lost out in this “competition” to Ohio, which just happens to have a hotly contested race for Governor this year.

None of this passes my smell test.

rockmom on August 27, 2010 at 9:12 PM

“Mr. Schundler, we’ve reviewed your application for Unemployment Benefits, but there seems to be a problem with the numbers you’ve provided us. Therefore, your annual allocation is $3.87. Thank you, and have a nice day.”

Left Coast Right Mind on August 27, 2010 at 10:48 PM

You people are disgusting.

Proud Rino on August 27, 2010 at 3:42 PM

Nothing keeping you here, pal. Feel free to take a hike.

Dominion on August 27, 2010 at 10:51 PM

You people are disgusting.

Proud Rino on August 27, 2010 at 3:42 PM

You get me. it’s nice to be understood.

Mojave Mark on August 27, 2010 at 11:36 PM

You people are disgusting.

Proud Rino on August 27, 2010 at 3:42 PM

Awww…ain’t it just so cuuuuuuute when a Lefty goes all morally on ya?

Cootchie sweat, baby…feel the nether vapors makin’ it purrrrrrrrrrrr

Wanderlust on August 28, 2010 at 12:13 AM

I guess Brett has a point though to wanting to be fired. He gave up a very good job to help Christie, I assume a pay cut too, a job he picked over rerunning for Mayor of Jersey City, a mayoral job he most likely could have won since our Mayor is a drunk, raised taxes for homeowners through the roof and stood as leader of a group of city workers who were all arrested (some for taking bribes that were donations for his campaign.)

Rbastid on August 28, 2010 at 1:22 AM

My question in all this is what reason would Schundler have for lying to Christie at the time when it still left Schundler’s department in error for the one line ommission (that was in the original application before Christie wanted it changed.) The difference in the stories is too nuanced to be a lie by Schundler. It wouldn’t have helped Schundler at the time. But an exageration by Christie now helps cover this up for the Governor.

From today’s Newark Star Ledger:

(links have video of Schundler whose voice sounds different to me, I think he is choked up by this)

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2010/08/education_chief_bret_schundler_1.html

Excerpt:

Schundler, the former Jersey City mayor who founded one of the state’s earliest charter schools, said he never told the Governor he tried to add new information to the state’s application — which would have been against the rules. But he said he told a reviewer the state would have met the application’s requirements had the correct information been included.
Schundler said Christie knew this but got carried away in his press conference.

“I believe the governor gets rolling, and….” he said, trailing off.

Christie’s spokesman Michael Drewniak said Schundler was trying to “cover up misleading the governor.”

Schundler said he still does not know how the error in the grant was made, but that he believed it happened in the fact-checking process.

Schundler, who became choked up when talking about the progress the state is poised to make in education, said being commissioner was his “life’s dream.”

He also expressed “tremendous disappointment” about leaving the administration, and said he thought “the governor and I were a good team.”

Schundler admitted he might have made a slight blunder by telling the governor the conversation with the reviewer happened during the interview, on camera — when, in reality, he said it happened after the camera was turned off.”

http://blog.nj.com/njv_tom_moran/2010/08/tom_moran_bret_schundlers_firi.html

Excerpt:

“And Schundler had saved a batch of e-mails that seem to support his view. . . . The governor claimed that Schundler gave reviewers the needed budget information, and was turned away. According to Schundler, he told the governor that was not true during a meeting immediately before the press conference when the governor was rehearsing his main points.

“I said, ‘Stop. Where you say I gave them numbers, that’s not accurate,” Schundler says.

But Maria Comella, the governor’s communications chief, who was at the meeting, says that’s simply not true. Schundler never said that.

So did Schundler mislead the governor or not? Democrats will parse that one for days.”

Elisa on August 28, 2010 at 8:47 PM

I’m 50 and have lived and voted in New Jersey all my life. I would trust Schundler over Christie any day.

I think Christie went overboard in his justifiable attack on the federal bureaucratic system. So it wasn’t enough to fire Schundler over the oversight error that his department made, by omitting ONE LINE that had previously been in the application relating to 2008 and 2009 numbers. Schundler would understand that and take it. He had to say that Schundler lied and I do not think he did. Schundler has emails that seem to support his claims. Now Schundler’s integrity is being damaged and that is unnecessary and unfair.

I almost didn’t vote for Christie because of past statements he made that didn’t seem conservative enough for me and he talked in that vague moderate political talk. I didn’t know if he could be trusted.

Schundler is despised by the liberal and moderate Republican establishment here in NJ that has made me sick for years. Because Schundler is a true conservative.

I have been pleased with how Christie has handled the education problems in NJ. I started to like him. But I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of Christie’s educational ideas and outspoken backbone came from Schundler who has NEVER been afraid to stand up for conservative principles against ANY criticism and has had great ideas on education for decades now. It has been his life’s work.

It’s a shame we have lost Schundler’s service and experience. He has dedicated his life to the state of NJ and its children’s education. It hasn’t made him much money doing so and he hasn’t been on the take like many NJ politicians or made a lot of political friends by speaking out for the truth. As he said, he has only $5,000 saved after the stock market crashed and has a mortgage and a child going to college. He could be a rich man if he had been in the private sector all his life. So I thank him for his honest service. He turned Jersey City and it’s schools around.

Elisa on August 28, 2010 at 8:50 PM

mojo on August 27, 2010 at 3:29 PM

I’m pretty sure it’s only firing for gross misconduct that you do not get unemployment in NJ.

margategop517 on August 29, 2010 at 1:56 AM

The money paid by the employer for that employee is an insurance for his employment, so that is the employees money going towards his unemployment insurance. It is part of his employment package, to say otherwise is just foolish.

WoosterOh on August 29, 2010 at 3:52 PM

Wait. I thought you couldn’t get unemployment insurance if you were fired.

Count to 10 on August 30, 2010 at 3:19 PM

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