TRENTON — A Newark Public Schools official who helped present New Jersey’s Race to the Top application in Washington, D.C., said today he flagged a crucial error less than a week before the presentation — but was told by consultants there was no chance to correct an answer after the deadline.
Dan Gohl, in charge of innovation and change in Newark schools, said he noticed the error six days before the presentation but he did not tell former Education Commissioner Bret Schundler or others in the state education department about the error.
Speaking at an Assembly committee hearing on the failed grant application, Gohl said he was told “anything that was submitted on June 1 timestamped a final document, and that’s all we can speak to” in the presentation.
When asked why he didn’t raise the issue with other officials in the state, Gohl said he was “playing catch-up” and was joining a group who knew more about the application.
New Jersey’s five representatives — including Schundler and Gohl — at the Aug. 11 presentation seemed surprised when the judges said the state provided information for the wrong budget years in response to a 5-point question. The state lost most of those points and lost the competition by three points.
Gov. Chris Christie fired Schundler in the aftermath of the state’s loss of the grant of up to $400 million, saying he was misled about what happened during that presentation.
Schundler has said he was unaware the state answered the question incorrectly until it came up in the presentation.
The U.S. Department of Education said the rules of the competition allowed the state to clarify answers in the application during the presentation but not introduce new information.
Assemblywoman Nellie Pou (D-Passaic), chair of the appropriations committee, said today the goal of the hearing was to understand how the mistake was made and develop safeguards against future mistakes.
“Only by understanding how a mistake of this magnitude was made will we be able to move forward with any confidence that it won’t happen again,” she said. “This is not a witch hunt, as some partisans have carelessly claimed. That attitude and rhetoric is insulting to the people of New Jersey who lost $400 million in education funding … The assembly takes seriously its oversight role over the administration.”
But Republicans, who are in the minority in the Legislature, and Democrats soon clashed over how to conduct the hearing, who could ask questions and when, and what the focus should be.
Representatives from the state Department of Education described the process of preparing and editing the more than 1,000-page application.
Consultants from New York-based education company Wireless Generation set up shop in the department in April, and sections of the application went through up to six or seven rounds of edits, in some cases, officials said.
Schundler and several top Christie aides declined to attend.