State education officials to appear at assembly Race to the Top hearing Tuesday

Three members of the state Department of Education team who helped prepare the state’s Race to the Top application for federal funding will appear before an assembly committee  Tuesday to speak about the application error at the heart of the recent dust up between the governor and his now terminated Commissioner of Education.

Acting Commissioner of Education Rochelle Hendricks, Deputy Commissioner Andrew Smarick and Newark Public Schools Executive Assistant for Innovation and Change Dan Gohl will all appear before the Assembly Appropriations Committee to discuss the error that led to the denial of the state’s grant application.

But the administration has denied the committee’s request to have Gov. Chris Christie’s Chief of Staff Rich Bagger, Communications Director Michael Drewniak and staffers Maria Comella and Gregg Edwards appear before the committee. 

“None of these individuals prepared or submitted New Jersey’s Phase Two Race to the Top application,” the letter from Deputy Chief Counsel Kevin O’Dowd to Assemblywoman Nellie Pou (D-North Haledon), who chairs the committee. “Accordingly, they will not appear to testify on September 7.”

According to O’Dowd’s letter, another invitee will also not be attending the hearing.  Consultant Wireless Generation, which was paid a six-figure fee to aid in the application process has retained an attorney, O’Dowd said, and will not be appearing.

Tuesday’s hearing is the latest chapter in the Race to the Top competition that has already led to the firing of Education Commissioner Bret Schundler and a very public war of words between Christie and his former education chief.

An error on the application, later found to have been made by Schundler, pushed the New Jersey out of the running for $400 million in federal funding.  After the denial, Christie lashed out at federal bureaucrats, saying Schundler told him he had tried to fix the error during a one hour interview with U.S. Department of Education officials, but he was rebuffed.

In response to Christie’s attack the federal agency released a video of the interview that showed Schundler and other state education officials were baffled by the error and at no time attempted to correct it.  Schundler was fired the following morning.

Schundler disputed Christie’s version of events and earlier this week released documents and a seven-page chronology of events that he said proved he had never told the administration he had tried to fix the error.

Tuesday, Democrats will try to get to the bottom of the costly mistake.  Schundler has been invited to testify before the committee, but it’s unknown if he has agreed to attend.

State education officials to appear at assembly Race to the Top hearing Tuesday