NJ Gov fires education chief over $400 mln typo

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican whose deep budget cuts have won wide praise, on Friday fired his education commissioner after a clerical error cost the state $400 million in federal education dollars.

Just two days ago, Christie defended the handling of New Jersey’s request for Race to the Top federal aid, saying the Obama administration’s refusal to let the cash-poor state fix its error exemplified Washington’s problems.

But U.S. education officials then released a video of a meeting that showed the state’s education commissioner, Bret Schundler, failing to give them the information they sought about specific budget years.

Christie, in a statement saying he was “accountable,” said: “I ordered an end to Bret Schundler’s service as New Jersey’s Education Commissioner and as a member of my administration.”

Schundler refused Christie’s request to resign, the governor’s office said. According to The Record newspaper, he refused because he wanted to collect unemployment benefits.

The state Department of Labor had no immediate comment.

Schundler, a candidate for governor in 2001, was paid $141,000 as education commissioner, according to The Record.

While New Jersey’s Democrat-led legislature enacted most of Christie’s plan to close an $11 billion deficit without tax hikes, they have seized on Schundler’s mistake as a campaign issue and plan to hold hearings to probe the matter.

Reporting by Joan Gralla; Editing by Dan Grebler