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Gov. Christie Fires N.J. Education Commissioner

Bret Schundler Expresses Disappointment Over Aid Debacle
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(AP Photo/Marko Georgiev)

(AP Photo/Marko Georgiev)

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TRENTON (CBS 2/1010 WINS) – New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie sacked his education commissioner Friday in an embarrassing fiasco — complete with video tapes — that cost the state $400 million.

Late Friday afternoon the newly fired Bret Schundler spoke out.

After Gov. Christie gave him the heave ho as education commissioner, Schundler had to run the gauntlet of reporters outside his Jersey City home, but he was tight lipped about the firing.

CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer: “Mr. Schundler can you say anything? Give us any kind of reaction?”

Schundler: “Nice to see you but no.”

A few hours later he talked.

“I thought we made a good team. I’m disappointed,” Schundler said. “I thought we were working well. And I think we had the ability to do great things here. I am hopeful that the department will continue to do great things with the governor.”

Schundler and the governor apparently had it out Friday in Trenton, where the reportedly furious chief executive demanded Schundler’s resignation after the federal Department of Education released a video that appeared to contradict Schundler’s story that he had verbally given federal officials the specific information that was left out of the state’s application for $400 million in aid.

“We were unable to find the application the funding levels, the school education funding level, specifically for the years 2008 and 2009 as requested,” an official on the video said.

After the unseen questioner asks for the information, Schundler turns to an assistant and both appear to be struggling to provide an answer. The assistant, when asked if she could explain where the information is, said, “No, I cannot.”

Schundler reportedly told the governor all the information was provided, and based on that, the governor publicly attacked the Obama administration for denying New Jersey funds.

Sources said the governor decided to get rid of Schundler because he felt he lied to him.

Christie issued a terse statement Friday, saying: “I was extremely disappointed to learn that the videotape was not consistent with the information provided to me by the New Jersey Department of Education.

“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.”

The handwriting was on the wall Thursday night. Christie was asked about the video on a radio show. He said he had just learned about it, adding that if it were true he would be seriously disappointed.

“I don’t know about not nice. And when am I seriously disappointed I am serious,” Christie said.

Schundler said he asked the governor to fire him, rather than resign, so he can collect unemployment benefits to pay his bills. He has a big mortgage and a daughter who just started college.  But Christie’s press secretary Michael Drewniak said Schundler indicated he would resign Friday morning, but later refused.

“We regret that Mr. Schundler continues to sully his own image by engaging in revisionist history,” Drewniak said, “Mr. Schundler was the administration’s only source for what occured in the Race to the Top presentation.  All of the governor’s statements were based on Mr. Schundler’s account.”

Not lost on Christie, a rising national Republican star, sources said, was the obvious attempt by Democrats to embarrass him.

“I think the Democrats, particularly the Obama folks, when they knew they had this tape, they knew they had Bret Schundler saying certain things. They thought, ‘Wow, we can we whack Chris Christie on this,’ and they were probably salivating,” said political activist Steve Adubato.

New Jersey’s Democratic establishment wasted no time piling on.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney said the governor’s decision to fire Schundler wont stop the questions about how New Jersey lost $400 million in desperately needed education aid.

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