A year to go in his tenure, Gov. Chris Christie this week shook up the State Board of Education with the appointment of five new members, the reappointment of eight, and the notable omission of one other.
The notable absence: Christie decided not to reappoint Mark Biedron, the 13-member board’s president and its highest-profile member, once his term expires in June.
Christie appointed Biedron six years ago as part of a sweeping remake of the board that brought on eight new members, and he quickly rose to the top seat by virtue of being especially active and outspoken in raising the board’s profile.
Although its influence ebbs and flows, the board is nonetheless a critical voice in setting education policy and regulations for the state, including graduation requirements, student testing, and interventions in schools.
The Somerset County businessman — the founder of a private school and active in sustainable construction — didn’t outright clash with the governor, making his nonrenewal a surprise to many yesterday.
But Biedron was noteworthy in his outreach as president to educators, advocates, and other groups, and he led a resurgence of the board speaking out on issues, even if its comments were not always in line with the administration’s stand.
And he raised questions about some big issues ahead for the board, including a rewriting of the charter-school regulations that are near and dear to the governor. They include a provision that would allow charter schools to hire uncertified teachers and administrators, and another that would ease rules on charters using vacant district buildings.
Biedron did not comment on the decision after the board meeting yesterday, except to confirm the news. “It’s true, and if you want to know the reason, you have to call the governor’s office,” he said.
A spokesman for the governor said there would be no further comment than the announcements of the appointments and reappointments that came out late yesterday in a press release.
But there is a certain political dance to these appointments, and it’s not always easy to determine the reasons behind the decisions and what deals may or may not have been struck with Senate leaders who also must approve the nominations.
All the appointments require Senate approval, and the nominations this week only start the process of vetting and interviews before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Nevertheless, it is rare when a nomination to a state board is reversed.
At play here is also the requirement that the board not have any more than one member from a single county. These unpaid positions also carry a particularly long term of six years.
And to be sure, there are a few interesting twists in other names on the appointment list. On one hand, Christie reappointed some board members who have actually been more critical of his policies. Most notable is Edithe Fulton, the former president of the New Jersey Education Association, a frequent nemesis of the governor’s. Another is Ronald Butcher, the board’s longest-running member.
On the other, Christie added to the board well-known Camden activist Angel Cordero. A former mayoral candidate from the city, Cordero a few years ago was among the state’s biggest advocates for private-school vouchers, a topic that may see a revival in Christie’s last year.
The following are new appointments:
Mary Elizabeth Gazi, (Bound Brook, Somerset)
Sylvia Sylvia (Ocean, Monmouth)
Nina L. Washington (Galloway, Atlantic)
Robert W. Noonan (Montclair, Essex)
Angel Cordero (Camden City, Camden)
The following are the reappointments:
Andrew J. Mulvihill (Andover, Sussex)
J. Peter Simon (Harding Township, Morris)
Jack Fornaro (Mansfield Township, Warren)
Edithe Fulton (Toms River, Ocean)
Arcelio Aponte (Piscataway, Middlesex)
Ernest Lepore (West New York, Hudson)
Ronald K. Butcher (Glassboro, Gloucester)