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Schundler On NJ Grant Mistake: ‘This Was My Error’

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(AP Photo/Mel Evans, File)

(AP Photo/Mel Evans, File)

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Updated 08/31/10 8:07 a.m.

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey’s fired education commissioner said Monday he’s learned he made a mistake that might have cost the state a $400 million federal education grant even though he doesn’t remember doing it.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Monday night, Bret Schundler said he’d just been informed the Department of Education discovered a draft of the state’s application with notes in his handwriting removing key information.

Although he said he didn’t recall making the error specifically, he didn’t dispute it.

“This was my error,” Schundler said. “It’s clear that it happened during editing.”

Newark’s The Star-Ledger newspaper first reported that Schundler made the mistake.

Schundler was fired by Republican Gov. Chris Christie on Friday, days after the state learned it had lost out on the coveted Race to the Top grant. The state was a top runner-up in the competition, missing by only a few points.

On Aug. 24, it was revealed that the state lost crucial points in reporting budget figures for the wrong years in one section of its application.

The next day, Christie defended Schundler and blamed the U.S. Department of Education for considering form over substance. Christie said Schundler gave the federal government the missing information during a meeting in Washington, D.C., this month. But a video released Thursday by the federal Department of Education shows that wasn’t the case.

Christie expressed frustration Friday that Schundler gave him the wrong story and asked him to resign. Schundler preferred to be fired so he might be able to collect unemployment insurance.

On Friday, Schundler said he told Christie what really happened but Christie still explained it incorrectly to the media. Schundler insists he didn’t mislead Christie about what happened.

“I think if he fired me on this, for making the error, I would have understood it,” Schundler said. “But what he did was to fire me for supposedly giving him the wrong information about whether we tried correcting the missing information.”

A spokesman for Christie declined to comment Monday night.

Schundler said he must’ve assumed the federal government wanted the most recent state budget information. The application asked for 2008-09 data, which was in earlier versions of the application.

“I remember thinking we should put in current data, but I didn’t remember taking out the old data,” Schundler said.

There were many people fact-checking and editing the application in the days before it was turned in, he said. After the mistake was realized, the administration tried to figure out how it happened.

Schundler said a consultant for the Department of Education had been on vacation and just discovered the handwritten notes from Schundler upon returning.

Both chambers of the Democrat-controlled state Legislature plan hearings next month to examine the error and have invited Schundler to testify.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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