TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — The New Jersey assistant commissioner of education was hired for the job, only to be fired hours later. Some have said the situation wasn’t handled properly.
Paula White earned multiple awards throughout a life dedicated to educating children, something up until a few days ago she thought she’d continue under Governor Phil Murphy’s administration.
But things quickly fell apart. She was nominated to be the assistant state commissioner of education by Lamont Repollet, Murphy’s pick for commissioner. From there, she met with the state board of education.
“On that day I was unanimously approved by the board, and the board chair offered me an opportunity to approach the board and public,” she told CBS2’s Meg Baker. “I spoke about how excited I was to assume the role and continue to serve children and families in New Jersey.”
She went to work that day, sitting in meetings and formally meeting who she thought would be her staff.
“I wasn’t quite home, I got a call from acting education commissioner informing me that he was going to have to rescind my offer and I was no longer going to be considered for assistant commissioner,” White said. “What was made clear was that I was not going to be in that inner circle of senior cabinet.”
With so much at stake for schools, Democratic State Senator Teresa Ruiz — head of the Senate Education Committee — says she wants answers as to why it was handled so poorly.
“When you see the criteria and caliber of the individual, and juxtapose that to the actions of what occurred begs the question of what occurred here,” she said.
Most recently, White was the chief turnaround officer at the NJ DOE, and in 2009 she founded Newark Legacy Charter School. Some have questioned if her ouster was influenced by the New Jersey Education Association, or NJEA — the state’s largest teachers union. White worked as state director of Democrats for Education Reform, an advocacy group that aligns with former President Obama’s agenda to reform tenure, expand charter schools in struggling districts, and utilize national standards linked to testing — all things the NJEA has opposed.
The union didn’t respond to CBS2’s request for comment, but a source in the governor’s office says the NJEA was not involved in the decision. A Murphy spokesman said, “Governor Murphy believes in supporting and uplifting all New Jersey students, no matter what school they attend. The candidate in question did not share many of the Governor’s policy views and ultimately the administration decided to go in a different direction.”
“Given I worked for the department of education before, I understand there is a vetting process on several levels,” White said. “I had gone through all those hoops, it’s inexplicable to me even now.”
Commissioner Repollet declined to comment on the matter.