TRENTON – Christopher Cerf may finally be able to take that “acting” tag off his education commissioner title.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to take up Cerf’s nomination to the Cabinet post Thursday. Cerf has technically been the state’s “acting” education commissioner since he was appointed by Gov. Chris Christie in December 2010 following the termination of Bret Schundler.
But because of the unwritten rule known as “senatorial courtesy,” Sen. Ron Rice, (D-28), of Newark, has held up the nomination. Cerf had lived in the Essex County town of Montclair.
But documents supplied to the Senate Judiciary Committee show that his residence and registered cars are now in Somerset County. Thus, Cerf will be interviewed.
“My hope is that the Essex County logjam for judicial appointments will be resolved,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari, (D-22), Linden, about the ultimate goal of Thursday’s hearing. “That has been one of the sticking points.”
Christie had held up appointments of judges in Essex County in hopes Rice would release his hold on Cerf’s nomination, but Rice held firm.
The New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said it looks forward to building on a productive relationship it has established with Cerf.
“We’ve had lots of differences with the Christie Administration on education policy. He’s spearheaded many of those policies. But we think we made some progress. Regardless of whether he’s commissioner or acting commissioner, he holds a significant role,” said Steve Baker, spokesman for NJEA.
Derrell Bradford of B4NJkids, an education reform group, hopes for a productive hearing as well.
“We are happy to see that acting Commissioner Cerf’s confirmation hearing has been scheduled, and we hope that he and the members of the committee have a thoughtful, clear exchange about how we make sure New Jersey’s children, regardless of the income or ZIP code, receive a quality education.”
During his years with the administration, Cerf has stressed the importance of closing the achievement gap between kids, mostly minorities, in poor urban districts and those in more well-off ones. Like Christie, he has said that devoting more money to struggling districts is not necessarily the answer since they already have received high amounts per student, leaving suburban and working-class school districts relatively shortchanged.
He’s been a big proponent of Christie’s education reform plan that, in part, includes more charter schools and school choice, support for merit pay and reforming tenure.
A tenure reform bill sponsored by Sen. Teresa Ruiz, (D-29), Newark, was passed unanimously by both the Assembly and Senate, but Christie has not signed it yet.
Scutari said he also hopes the truth is being told regarding Cerf’s primary residence, and he intends to ask Cerf about that.
Scutari said that while he hasn’t done a poll of the committee to see how members will vote on releasing Cerf’s nomination, Scutari said, “I would suspect there will be enough votes.”
Personally, he said he’s leaning toward supporting the release of Cerf’s nomination as the state’s education head.