Senate Judiciary Committee releases Cerf nomination

TRENTON – After more than four hours of testimony, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday unanimously released the nomination of Christopher Cerf for state education commissioner.

He has been serving in that same role in an “acting” capacity for 19 months.

Questions had come up in the beginning regarding his residence. Cerf said he lives in an apartment in Montgomery for much of the week, saying he wanted to be closer to work than having to drive to Montclair each and every day.

He still owns a family home in that Essex County municipality.

Nick Scutari (D-22) of Linden, was convinced with Cerf’s explanation of why he moved, saying he believes his move was politically-motivated (Montgomery is represented by Republican Sen. Kip Bateman), instead of wanting to live closer to work.

He told Cerf he was “turned off” by his explanation.

“I cannot accept that,” Scutari said. “How can I accept that when you have a driver.”

Nonetheless, Scutari supported releasing the nomination, citing Cerf’s qualifications.

However, he said he hopes Cerf is more “upfront” in the future.

However, the bulk of the hearing consisted mostly of committee members asking questions on an array of education issues, such as the school funding formula, the former Abbott School districts, fraud in the free lunch school program, and school employees participating in local politics.  

One lawmaker called for holding off on approving virtual charter schools until the state could learn more about them. However, Cerf said legislation restricting them probably is not necessary.

Republicans generally support virtual charter schools, saying they provide students another alternative.

Cerf said he supports the creation of charter schools, especially in areas where there are unmet needs within the public school system.

Sen. Loretta Weinberg, (D-37), of Teaneck, who credited Cerf for his responsiveness, said many of the goals Cerf highlighted, such as closing the achievement gap, can be achieved “without going into the for-profit public school model.”

“You have such an interesting background… you’ve been an asset to really roughing up the waters,” she said. “I think you are antennaed particularly when it comes to ethics.”

Sen. Paul Sarlo, (D-36), of Wood-Ridge, also supported the nomination, but added he hopes Cerf works more directly with the Legislature and does not let politics interfere.

Earlier story:

Scutari: Cerf’s personal driver usage undercuts residency claims Senate Judiciary Committee releases Cerf nomination