ATLANTIC CITY, NJ (CBS) — The state’s acting education commissioner has pointedly declined an invitation to address teachers at an annual New Jersey Education Association convention, saying the union fails to put children first.
In an e-mail to NJEA President Barbara Keshishian sent Monday night, Rochelle Hendricks said she won’t attend the Atlantic City event, which begins Thursday, because the union is only “interested in protecting the status quo that continues to fail students.”
The NJEA called Hendricks’ letter a “an insult to every teacher in New Jersey.” It said Wednesday that education commissioners have regularly attended the convention since the 1970s.
Hendricks was asked to speak about the state of education in New Jersey and then take questions from the audience. Up to 400 union members are expected to attend.
Hendricks said the NJEA consistently has shown “it is unwilling to accept reforms that put results for our children first and use them as part of our metrics for evaluating teacher performance.”
She added: “Whenever you are ready to consider a real discussion about pursuing bold education reform, my door is open.”
The teachers’ union and Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, have been engaged in a bitter war of words since he campaigned for the governor’s office, which he assumed in January. The union supported then-Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat.
Christie named Hendricks as acting commissioner in August after he fired then-commissioner Bret Schundler shortly after news came that New Jersey had lost out on a federal education grant possibly because of a preventable administrative error.
In May, just before the Race to the Top grant application was due, Schundler made some compromises on the merit pay components of the proposal to win the endorsement of the NJEA.
Christie rejected those compromises and submitted a grant application that didn’t include them but did include an error that cost the state crucial points.
Christie fired Schundler when the two got their signals crossed over the error, and an embarrassing and very public feud followed.
Schundler later told a legislative oversight panel looking into the failed grant application that Christie “found it utterly intolerable for him to be viewed to have given in to them (the union).”
Keshishian said Hendricks appears to have learned from Schundler that “collaboration with educators on education reform issues is a fireable offense in the Christie administration.”
A new education commissioner has not been named.
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