TRENTON - State Education Commissioner Bret Schundler said Thursday that he had made a mistake by not checking with his boss, Gov. Christie, before reaching an agreement with the state's largest teachers' union regarding an application for federal grants.
Schundler had agreed to key concessions to teachers in New Jersey's application for federal Race to the Top aid without Christie's knowledge, he said. Christie later changed the application to remove those concessions, saying the Obama administration, not the teachers' union, would determine who won the funding.
Schundler said that Christie had not learned the details of the agreement until last Friday, and that the governor had not agreed with them.
"Ultimately, it was my mistake before finalizing things with the [New Jersey Education Association] not to have gone with him and not to have him review the different things we were talking about," Schundler said.
Christie restored merit pay, the tying of teacher evaluations to student performance, and the priority of effectiveness over seniority when determining which teachers are laid off first.
Schundler said he had agreed to the changes because he thought the support of the union would help the grant application.
"I made a mistake, and I will hope that I don't make future errors," he said. He added that he did not know if the application would fare better without the support of the union but with the "bolder" changes, or vice versa.
Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said the governor had not asked Schundler to resign and had moved on.
"Clearly, the governor was not at all happy with how this unfolded, and he spoke at considerable length to the commissioner about that," Drewniak said. "It was a mistake, a regrettable mistake, but the governor still has faith in Bret Schundler as commissioner and respects the ideas that he brings to the job."
"We're certain that it won't happen again, and we intend to move on from here."
The NJEA on Thursday questioned Schundler's ability to be effective as commissioner.
"Schundler has suffered an enormous loss of credibility," union spokesman Steve Wollmer said. "We assumed he was speaking for the administration. It turns out he was only speaking for himself. That's pretty disconcerting."
Wollmer added that it was troubling to think Christie was not aware of the NJEA's discussions with his administration about the grant application, since they had been going on for weeks.
"There are only two possible explanations: Either the governor didn't know, which means his administration is dysfunctional, or he did know and now he's misleading people again," Wollmer said. "Neither one is pleasant."