In tearing up the Schundler-NJEA agreement, Governor Christie burned his relationship with former Commissioner Bret Schundler, who shares the governor’s education agenda, and with NJEA, a key partner in any reform. The agreement was not everything Christie wanted, but it was a start. As a result, a working relationship with NJEA will be harder to re-establish, and other cabinet members are left wondering how to conduct their job without risking a public flogging (or worse) from their boss.
Grant Writer-in-Chief Christie showed terrible judgment in ordering a rewrite of this 1,000 page document over one weekend. It was an invitation for screw ups, even with a large team on hand. Errors creep into a proposal, and there is the danger of making last-minute changes that have not been well thought out and vetted. And that is what happened. However, the Grant Writer-in-Chief blamed everyone else.
Lawyers are trained to be careful with their words. In public presentations prosecutors often read from prepared statements lest what they utter prejudice their own case. In his press conference on Wednesday former Federal Prosecutor Christie was injudicious to say the least. He made statements that were inaccurate, some of which will continue haunting him. Seemingly mild- mannered Schundler said about the Governor’s statements, “I believe the governor gets rolling, and….” A less polite name for this would be “motor mouth.”
Christie said at the press conference,”The mistake was made by a mid-level official at the State Department of Education.” He was acting as if he knew who committed the error, which apparently he did not. Commissioner Schundler later said he committed the error.
He also stated at the press conference “State Education Commissioner Bret Schundler gave the correct information to the U.S. Department of Education when giving his presentation two weeks ago.” The video disputes this statement. Schundler himself in e-mails and orally says he asked the governor not to make that claim, as it is inaccurate, and it would violate the grant regulations against submitting changes in the proposal after the deadline.
Christie placed himself in the least attractive light possible by blaming the grant reviewers and the Obama administration which were just following grant regulations in order to provide fairness for all proposals. A wiser and better leader would have avoided a pointless and inaccurate blame game.
With the loss of a $400 million infusion into our education system, and driven by ideology and bad judgment, Governor Christie faltered for all to see. It’s a sad moment for students and teachers. And it reflects poorly on a governor who has sought national media attention, but left his constituents at home shaking their heads.