Buono Grants Education Officials OPRA Extension, But Skeptical Paperwork Hasn’t Already Been Collected

Department Asks for Nine More Days to Produce ‘Race to the Top’ Documents

TRENTON — Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono today coolly granted the state Department of Education a nine-day extension for completing her request under the Open Public Records Act for all records regarding the administration’s handling of the Race to the Top application, saying the documents should have been already “collected and corralled.”

Buono submitted a request to then-Commissioner Bret Schundler — for “all documents prepared, received, maintained, controlled or otherwise possessed by you, your employees or any independent contractors employed by the New Jersey Department of Education related to, discussing or describing New Jersey’s 2010 application to the U.S. Department of Education for The Race to the Top Funding” — on August 26. The state’s deadline for responding under law was close-of-business yesterday.

At 4:27 p.m. yesterday, Buono received a two-sentence e-mail from the Department asking for an extension until Sept 16 to fulfill the request.

“However reluctantly, I will allow the Department the extra time it asked for, although it is hard to believe that all the information regarding Race to the Top has not already been collected and corralled and made easily retrievable,” said Buono (D-Middlesex). “The recent turmoil at the Department aside, it’s not as if we’re asking for years of records. But we will give them this narrow period of time to produce everything that can facilitate a full airing of the issues surrounding the state’s application.”

The information is intended to be part of the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee’s Sept 23 hearing to determine the cause of a flubbed response to a question that cost the state 10th-place in the competition and $400 million in federal education aid. The committee will review the materials and work to ensure that, going forward, similar applications are handled with proper and adequate oversight before being submitted.

“My OPRA request is vital to making sure the Committee has the paperwork it needs to hold an informative and enlightening hearing,” said Buono. “But the less time lawmakers have to scour these records, the more questions may be raised.”

The information sought under the request is due close-of-business Thursday, Sept 16.