Buono: Christie’s Mass Firing Of 7 County Supers Continues Policy Of Politics Before Kids

Coupled with Failure to Name Higher Ed Secretary, Move Throws Fresh Doubt On Christie Dedication to Education

TRENTON – Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono today blasted the Governor’s summary firing of one-third of the state’s executive county school superintendents on purely political grounds, saying the action continues the administration’s policy of putting politics before the needs of school children and property taxpayers.

The executive superintendents in Burlington, Cape May, Hunterdon, Ocean, Middlesex, Monmouth and Somerset counties were sent an e-mail message last Thursday – the last work day before the New Year’s Day holiday – that included the line “today is your last day of work.” When asked to explain the firings, the Governor’s press secretary could only give an excuse that those let go “were holdovers from the prior administration…It’s that simple.”

“First the Governor politicized the courts, and now he risks politicizing the schools far more than his war on teachers ever had,” said Buono (D-Middlesex). “The executive county superintendents are watchdogs for school children and property taxpayers. They are professionals who went through a long vetting process and selected because they weren’t going to put politics before sound educational policy. These aren’t political hacks that should be in a revolving door, they’re essential to overseeing the operations of our schools.”

Buono noted that the position of Executive County Superintendent of Schools was created with the purpose of strengthening oversight of local districts. County superintendents are given the authority of approving or rejecting all school administrator contracts – including implementing the Governor’s new salary cap. They also have the authority to push districts into shared service arrangements to save costs, ensure administrational efficiency within districts and recommend the elimination of unnecessary state mandates.

The superintendents also were directed to make recommendations for consolidating school districts among regional lines. Those reports were submitted to the state Department of Education in 2010, but officials in Trenton have said there is no plan to implement the superintendents’ recommendations.

“Once again, it appears that the Governor acted unilaterally in the name of politics,” said Buono. “Hasn’t anyone learned anything from Race to the Top?”

Buono also noted that the Governor is nearly a year late in filling the vacant position of Secretary of Higher Education, which was created explicitly to oversee the Commission on Higher Education and review the budgets and operations of the state’s public colleges and universities.

“The Governor needs to realize that filling these positions is vital to making sure the education system works for students and taxpayers,” said Buono. “He calls for greater accountability, but leaves the watchdog positions vacant. He says he wants to cut spending, but won’t fill the posts with people who can make those recommendations to shed excess school costs. Once again, the Governor is perpetuating his cycle of saying one thing, then doing another.”