Rumor Mill: Schundler is Still Cookin'

Ed. Comm. Schundler quashed rumors of his resignation yesterday, announcing that his early demise was prematurely reported. Various papers, including New Jersey Newsroom, say that Schundler told the Senate Education Committee yesterday that he is not leaving anytime soon, though there's still the matter of whether or not his credibility is damaged enough to render him ineffective.

The consensus? Depends upon whom you ask. The Record quotes Joseph De Pierro, dean of the College of Education at Seton Hall, who says, “now when people negotiate with him they’re not going to have confidence that what he says will stick with his boss. He’ll be constantly running back to the governor to make sure the governor is on board with whatever is being proposed. It’s going to limit his effectiveness.” Steve Wollmer, spokesman for NJEA, didn’t mince words: “His credibility is terribly damaged…everyone assumed he had the authority to negotiate. …The commissioner, frankly, has been undressed in public.” Derrell Bradford of E3 was more sanguine:
“What in any other year would have been a procedural faux pas in a complex machine winds up being ‘Oh the world is ending,’” Bradford said. “The commissioner will be fine and his relationship with the governor will be fine. … Bret has an extremely long track record on education reform. … The governor picked him because of where he is and that won’t change.”
NJ Spotlight looks at the impact of this “terrible damage”/”procedural faux pas” on our Race To The Top prospects. We’re one of just a few states that applied for federal money without teacher union support. (However, check out Edweek’s Politics K-12, which details how Florida is signing deals with teacher unions that seem contrary to their RTTT application.) Charlie Barone of Democrats for Education Reform comments,
There’s still a wide variability. A lot more have seen union buy-ins this time, because they realize the states would apply, anyway. But it still comes down to if you don’t have robust reforms, you won’t get high scores.
We have the "robust reforms" written into our application -- tenure overhaul, tying teacher effectiveness to student achievement, imminent adoption of the Common Core, plans to turn around failing schools, beefing up our data systems -- but where are we without union buy-in? Does Arne Duncan care? Would he have any interest in using NJ as a poster child for implementing education reform without union support?

My best guess is that Schundler is damaged, but not mortally. In fact, he's now the very best liaison to NJEA that the Christie Administrative could have: "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," and all that, or at least that's how Schundler could play it. In some ways, however, it makes the stakes for our RTTT application even higher. If we win, then Christie/Schundler has money to move forward in spite of union opposition. The public pressure would be enormous to capably spend hundreds of millions dollars to improve education. If we lose, though, then NJEA regains the upper hand, having proven to a fare-thee-well that there's no game if NJ's teacher union picks up its marbles and goes home.

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