Christie Nominates Cerf to Be New Jersey's Next Education Commissioner

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie nominated Christopher Cerf, a former deputy chancellor of the New York City school system, to be the state’s next education commissioner.

Cerf, 56, would replace Bret Schundler, whom Christie fired in August after the state lost $400 million in federal school funding because of an error on an application. Christie, a first-term Republican, announced the nomination at a press conference in the Statehouse today.

Christie, 48, has said New Jersey’s public-education system is too costly and failing many children. He proposed changes in September that include linking teachers’ pay and tenure to their students’ performance, and making it easier for districts to fire their worst educators.

“Mr. Cerf’s innovative leadership will be invaluable as we address the civil-rights issue of our time,” Christie said in a statement today. “For far too long, the education establishment and political leadership in our state and across the country have accepted low expectations and failure -- particularly in our urban school districts.”

Cerf said he is a registered Democrat and a resident of Montclair, in northern New Jersey. His selection must be approved by the Democratic-controlled state Senate.

Per Student

Assembly Education Committee Chairman Patrick Diegnan, a Democrat, said in a statement that Cerf “combines an impressive background with extensive experience.”

Before working for the New York City Department of Education, Cerf was president and chief operating officer of New York-based Edison Schools Inc., a private operator of schools, after working as its general counsel and executive vice president.

Cerf left the New York City post in 2009 to work on Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s re-election campaign. Bloomberg said Cerf “played a crucial role in our work to turn around a once-broken school system that had failed generations of students.”

“His creativity and leadership, and his willingness to tackle the toughest issues head-on by putting the interests of children ahead of the special interests, helped our administration achieve record gains in achievement levels and graduation rates,” Bloomberg said in a statement.

The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

Students, Teachers

Cerf said he supports allowing students and parents to choose which public schools they attend, increasing accountability and linking teacher pay to performance. He also said he’ll seek to narrow the performance gap between students in poor and wealthy districts.

“We can all talk about reform, but it’s really the interface between the student and the teacher where the difference is made,” Cerf said during a news conference with Christie today.

New Jersey spends $25 billion on education a year, and its per-pupil spending was the highest in the nation at $17,620 for the 2007-2008 school year, according to information from Christie’s office.

Christie has said the New Jersey Supreme Court’s Abbott v. Burke series of decisions, which began in 1990 and required the state to equalize spending between rich and poor districts, resulted in an unaffordable education system.

Teachers Union

The governor has battled with the state’s teachers union after reducing school aid and pushing to cut pensions and benefits. In April, voters rejected a record 59 percent of school budgets after Christie urged them to do so in districts where teachers refused to accept wage freezes.

“You have one group of people that have been standing in the schoolhouse door blocking reform,” Christie said today in his office in the state capital of Trenton. “I will not be a punching bag for defenders of the status quo.”

Schundler, a former Jersey City mayor and two-time Republican candidate for governor, has acknowledged making an editing mistake that cost the state 4.8 points on its application for the U.S. Education Department’s Race to the Top competition. New Jersey lost by 3 points, which let Ohio qualify as the last of 10 states to win a share of the grants.

To contact the reporters on this story: Terrence Dopp in Trenton at tdopp@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net

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