TRENTON - New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie fired his education commissioner Friday, days after it was revealed that a simple mistake on an application form might have cost the state a $400 million education grant.
The dismissal of Commissioner Bret Schundler comes after New Jersey became the top runner-up for the $3.4 billion in Race to the Top grants awarded to nine states and the District of Columbia, missing out by only a few points. The Star-Ledger of Newark later reported that budget figures for the wrong years were supplied in one section of the application.
Christie had defended Schundler on Wednesday and blamed the U.S. Education Department for considering form over substance. Christie said this week that Schundler gave the federal government the missing information during a meeting in Washington this month. But a video released Thursday by the federal Education Department shows that wasn't the case.
"I was extremely disappointed to learn that the videotape of the Race to the Top presentation was not consistent with the information provided to me by the New Jersey Department of Education and which I then conveyed to the people of New Jersey," Christie said in a statement Friday. "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."
In an interview Friday, Schundler said that he gave Christie the right story. "In fact, I was very direct with him that we didn't get the panel the numbers," he said. He also shared printouts of e-mails that he says show he accurately told the governor's public relations office what happened during that meeting.
Mike Drewniak, a spokesman for Christie, says Schundler is misinterpreting the e-mails and trying to cover up how he misled the governor.
Schundler said he was asked to resign, but he requested to be fired instead to collect unemployment insurance. "I have a mortgage to pay and a daughter about to start college," he said.