How likely is it that the Senate will approve Bret Schundler’s appointment as Commissioner of Education? The custom of senatorial courtesy allows any one senator from the nominee’s district to put the kibosh on approval, so in this case it is the three Democratic senators from Hudson County: Sandra B. Cunningham of Jersey City, and Nicholas Sacco of North Bergen, and Brian Stack of Union City.
We count Cunningham as a shoe-in. After all, she is happily serving on Christie’s Transition Team. Sacco sounds wary yet jovial: he’s no voucher advocate, but says he can be won over: “"I'm in wait and see mode and interested to learn what type of knowledge he has," Sacco tells PolitickerNJ before deadpanning, "I thought they might be looking toward a former superintendent of education." (Sacco, in addition to serving as a state senator, is also an Assistant Superintendent of North Bergen Public Schools. Huh? Right. Only in New Jersey.) While he tells the New York Times that “I do believe that the governor has a right to make his choices,” he also confides that “I do have somewhat of a concern about this particular choice.” Does NJEA’s opposition come to mind? Perhaps. He tells PolitickerNJ, “in certain organizations, teachers unions, vouchers send out alarm bells,” but he “has a completely open mind.” However, there’s a history dating back to 1995 of Sacco and some fellow politicos trying to stymie a voucher plan proposed by then-Mayor Schundler. Maybe it’s water under the bridge.
Senator Brian Stack is another kettle of fish (also, another superman: in his spare time he's Mayor of Union City). PolitickerNJ, in a separate piece, calls the breech between Stack and Schundler “an impassable divide.” Why the breach? There seems to be a perception that Schundler is too strong an advocate of marrying private enterprise and education, what some call (disparagingly) edu-preneurship, while Stack beams at the brand-new multimillion dollar Union City High School construction project, courtesy of the Corzine administration.
Here’s some free advice to Ed Commish-hopeful Schundler: ensure senate confirmation by reassuring Supermen Sacco and Stack that you’ll put vouchers on the back-burner for the immediate future. Focus your energies towards reaching consensus on common core standards, expanding charter schools, particularly in our poor urban areas, and producing a Race To the Top application that may actually garner some cash. Work on the funding formula. Help school districts incorporate elements of education reform -- merit pay, changes in tenure laws -- into bargaining agreements so that we reward our best professionals and can boot our worst. Don't worry about the NJEA leadership: it's so nineteenth century. Enough to keep you busy for the first year, Mr. Schundler?