It pays to be a friend and neighbor of Chris Christie

Brian Zychowski, flanked by Christie and Cerf
Brian Zychowski, flanked by Christie and Cerf

Brian Zychowski, the North Brunswick schools superintendent,  is considered a leading candidate to replace state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf who is leaving at the end of the month. Gov. Chris Christie has appointed Zychowski to a number of important state commissions.  The governor and Zychowski are Mendham neighbors and friends and Zychowski coached Christie’s daughter, a member of a local basketball team. And, finally, Christie apparently has overlooked Zychowski’s salary which goes far beyond the state caps imposed with both anger and some fanfare by the governor.

It’s apparently good to have a good friend and neighbor who is governor.

Zychowski makes $206,237 a year. According to the caps imposed by the governor in February, 2011, he should only be making $165,000 a year.  If he is offered and takes the education commissioner’s job, he will be making only $141,000 a year.

What is also curious about Zychowski’s  salary contract is its timing. It appeared to be timed to avoid the pay cut hundreds of other superintendents faced because of Christie’s insistence on cutting what he called “lavish” spending on the salaries of local school chiefs.

According to Zychowski, he began negotiations with the North Brunswick school board in July of 2010, a year before his first contract expired. He had been hired for $175,000. He doesn’t give a date but the governor initially said he would try to cap superintendents’ salaries– also in July, 2010. On Nov. 1, Christie announced the regulations imposing ceilings on the salaries for the local school executives.

“Capping pay to reasonable levels is a commonsense initiative that will end abuses that have been permitted for too long at the expense of our children’s education,” Christie said. “By bringing superintendent salaries in-line with district needs, we will be able to save millions in tax dollars and put that money back where it belongs – in the classrooms.”

The regulations were to go into effect Feb. 7 but, to prevent a mad rush to revise contracts beyond the caps, Christie   ordered county superintendents not to approve new contracts until then. In effect, the regulations went into practical operation immediately.

To show he meant business, the governor made an issue out of one superintendent. He  angrily denounced the Parsippany-Troy Hills school district for approving a contract extension for its superintendent  and ridiculed the educator, LeRoy Seitz, as “the poster boy for all that’s wrong with the public school system.”

In one of his infamous town hall meetings, the governor lit into Seitz and said he would “help him pack” if he wanted to quit and take a job in another state that had no salary caps.

The date is important. The date of the  town hall meeting and the date of the Parsippany-Troy Hills board meeting approving a new  five-year contract with two percent raises each year for Seitz was the same–Nov. 9, 2010.

Want to know when the North Brunswick school board—and the state-appointed county superintendent–approved Zychowski’s five-year contract with two percent raises?

Nov. 10, 2010. Just one day later.

Just one day after Christie mocked and ridiculed Seitz and the Parsippany-Troy Hills school board, his friend and neighbor from Mendham got pretty much the same deal and the loud mouth of the governor was not heard.

It’s called favoritism and, as Christie, the former US Attorney, well knows, using your office to do favors for friends could be a violation of 18 U.S.C. 1346 that forbids any “scheme or artifice” that deprives anyone of  “the intangible right of honest services.”  That’s the same law Christie as the phony crusader against crime and corruption used to snag political rivals and enemies, including former Newark Mayor Sharpe James.

Just my opinion–but I think any public official who privately helps friends gain a benefit while denying it to others just might be in violation of 18 U.S.C 1346.

Seitz, by all accounts, was one of the best superintendents in the state—but this is what Christie said about him at that town hall meeting:  “We have real problems in our state that we have to fix and we don’t have the time, nor the money, nor the patience any longer for people who put themselves before our citizens.”

The governor also threatened to withhold more than $3 million state aid unless the district rescinded its contract—the board finally did do just that. Seitz, who lost a lawsuit seeking to have his raise reinstated,  retired in 2013 and local news stories still referred to him as a “poster boy for greed.”

Wouldn’t that all make Brian Zychowski also a person “who put themselves before our citizens”? Apparently.  But that didn’t prevent Christie from naming him to a state commission that came up with a new teacher evaluation system. The governor praised Zychowki for helping to devise “a blueprint for remaking public education in the state and refocusing the fundamental goals of the system to center on high student achievement and results for children.”

Zychowski was named to head the New Jersey Educators Effectiveness Task Force just two weeks before Zychowski got his five-year contract extension and cap-busting raise.

What Christie called “greed” in another superintendent also apparently didn’t prevent the governor from naming Zychowski to yet another task force in 2013—the New Jersey SAFE Task Force that offered weak recommendations on gun control.

Other school superintendents also make more than the caps allow. Newark’s Cami Anderson, for example, makes $240,000 and just received from Christie a $50,000 “performance” bonus.

Zychowski was asked whether he or the North Brunswick school board was given inside information that led them to negotiate the contract earlier. He didn’t answer.

That’s not the point. The point is that a friend and neighbor of Chris Christie got special treatment.

But, maybe, that’s just not news anymore.

26 comments

  1. Hildy Jackson

    Since the beginning of his administration I was waiting for the muck and mire to rise up around him. It has. Thanks for the honest reporting of the facts.

  2. Frankie Adao

    He has watched one too many episodes of Soprano! He is a loose cannon. Dirty and corrupt. Christie is a disgrace to those born and raised with NJ Pride. He is a poor excuse representing for the Italian American demographic in NJ. Bully and 2 bit thug. TIME FOR HIM TO GO and take his cronies with him.

  3. DeeplyConcerned

    From the beginning of this administration, rules brutally imposed against some have conveniently been “overlooked” when it comes to Christie’s friends and allies. Keep on this, Bob, especially if he’s named commissioner. Maybe an OPRA request is in order, although Christie’s much-ballyhooed “transparency” doesn’t seem to apply to information he doesn’t want us to know.

  4. Noreen

    You forgot Paterson And Camden supers! This governor has no dignity. He is a bully and a thief! He has stolen millions from our schools and lined the pockets of the Broad Foundation and Pearson and under qualified friends. The Camden super was NEVER a teacher! He was emergency certified!
    Why does the Broad Foundation have someone on Christies staff?

  5. Monique Green

    As a taxpayer and an educator in the state of NJ, this is a DISGRACE. CC is a bully, he hires bullies, he’s bad for our state and the education of our youth. Paying Ms. Anderson 290,000 while poverty is an epidemic in our inner cities in 2014!!!
    Shame on you….Chris Christie, you need to get the heck out of NJ!!!

  6. Pingback: Snow Day Redux News Roundup & Open Thread for Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014 - United Americans
  7. AC

    But wait/ What about Benghazi, or the NSA spying, or drones, or the flaws in Obamaare…how come you Libs never address that????!!!!!!!

    Just wanted to take a minute to poke fun at how biased Republicans, Libertarians and their ilk change the subject every time one of their heroes is exposed for the liar and fraud that they are. Better yet, how they’re more obsessed with winning the argument than having a conversation.

    • annie

      But what about Benghazi…? We deserve to know. It seems to be a trickle down effect from the White House to the State House. Christie should be nailed, but so should so many others. Why is it okay to say “i didn’t know about that” at any level, Republican or Liberal?

  8. Newarkbluesman

    This guy is bad paper,first does Amplify have a contract there.The state board is happy Cerf moved on.This guy should never be confirmed.The dems better get tough or they can take a hike with.

  9. jessica Saul, RN, MSN

    Brian enjoys humiliating his staff, his values are not questionable they are abhorrent! This has been his and Christie’ s goal for over 20 years, stepping on people all the way. Brian was superintendent in Highlands, where was he or his hip buddy in the aftermath of Sandy? These are two men of the same kind, step on, put down, but forever upward oh and go to church because that makes it ok. Got fi dollas Bri?

  10. Tim

    Great catch! I just wish you or one of our crack reporters had caught it back when Christie was mouthing off about Seitz!

  11. Becca Field

    I think it will be up to us to be tough on the Legislature – the Senate Judiciary Committee. We need to do our homework and be prepared to take a stand on nominations. I am grateful Mr. Braun gave us this headstart.

  12. Travis

    Bout time!!! As educators “our voice” is finally being heard! Christie is a fraud and he has his “lackies”. Bob my dad Leroy always spoke highly of your journalistic integrity. Your informational pieces are enlightening and profound. There’s a “storm” brewing and I am excited for SPRING to arrive.

  13. Tony

    Great article! I hope these feeds would make the six o’clock news because there are many out there that firmly believe that this governor has fought the corrupt politicians and dirty unions all while crossing over the aisle. I don’t know what it will take for people to realize that under his watch New Jersey has not just struggled but is mired with corrupt politics whose effects will be felt in the coming decade!

  14. Christina

    To echo AC:
    What about Benghazi, or the NSA spying, or drones, or the flaws in Obamaare…how come you Libs never address that????!!!!!!!
    Can you comment Bob Braun???? I guess as long as liberal democrats are the ones causing havoc in this Country, then it’s okay.

    Bob Braun: I write a blog about NJ and concentrate on education and related issues. I promise that, as soon as the opportunity arises to relate NSA spying, drones, or Obamacare, to the subjects of my blog, I’ll do it.

  15. Tony

    Braun I hope u are writing another story about the snow. The storm brings out the best in people. Neighbors helping neighbors but not the board of education. The street lights were not working, the snow was not removed, there was flooding at most intersections and i witnessed kids jumping all over the place sometimes in front of plows, or incoming cars all as they were headed to school. All this risk for a cold sandwich, a movie in the auditorium cause there are not enough teachers, and a lost day of school cause this chaotic day will not be made up!

  16. Christina

    Somehow Mr. Braun, I find it hard to believe that your blog is all and only about education!

    Bob Braun: Read them and you will know, won’t you?

  17. Delia

    As a North Brunswick Township resident, I am proud of our superintendent, his work ethic, and the job he does for our school system. This man puts in countless hours and attends every school event/game during the evening hours, supporting and encouraging students while promoting responsibility and diligence in education. He earns every penny of his salary, and has earned the respect of this township and the school board thru his hard work and ethics.

    Bob Braun: Thank you for your note. All of what you wrote may well be true but it doesn’t contradict the fact that, while his colleagues throughout the state saw their salaries slashed, he managed to get raises and receive income well beyond the cap imposed by the governor. Most of the people in Parsippany-Troy Hills believe they had a good superintendent as well, but, for doing exactly what Brian Zychowski did at the exact same time, Leroy Seitz was held up to ridicule, embarrassment and humiliation and called a “poster child for greed.” His salary was reduced and the courts upheld the right of the governor to do what he did. Is that fair? Shouldn’t Dr. Zychowski have been treated the same? Should he not have insisted, as a matter of personal honor, morality, and respect for law, that he not receive special treatment simply because he knew the governor personally? Finally, I’d note that the caps had the force of law because they represent administrative regulations. The law, in this case, was flouted and mocked.

  18. Roy Minieri

    Dr Zychowsky is a Good man.. a Friend of the people..an Asset to the North Brunswick School System..a Leader and Role model to the children he oversees…Have a Great Day Brian and you continue on your positive path in Education…

    Bob Braun: As I said earlier, this all could be true but it doesn’t change the story one bit.

  19. Russ Walsh

    Bob,

    Thank you for ths important reporting. I am sure that Bryan Zuchowski earns his money. As a former Director of Human Resources for a large New Jersey school district, I am well aware of what is an appropriate salary for a schools superintendent. Zuchowski’s salary is not out of line. Christie’s restrictive salary cap has cost the state many a fine superintendent over the past few years. I have met Bryan Zuchowski and he is a good man and a good educator. Unfortuantely, he has done the governor’s bidding on the comittees he has chaired. The Governor’s Task Force on Teacher Effectiveness gave Christie what he wanted despite evidence of the very flawed nature of the design being recommended. That evidence was presented to the task force and it was largely ignored. Looks like Zuchowski was carrying the water for his neighbor.

  20. DeeplyConcerned

    You’re absolutely correct about the selective enforcement of fiscal policies by the Christie administration. While Christie was imposing strict salary caps on non-politically connected superintendents and ridiculing LeRoy Seitz as “the poster boy for all that’s wrong with the public school system,” the Dept. of Education was quietly bringing in consultants at $1,000 or even $2,500 per day! (Penny MacCormack, a Broad graduate and now the controversial superintendent In Montclair, was hired for 3 months at $1,000/day.) Education Commissioner Cerf, ignoring or oblivious to the hypocrisy, responded to questioning by the Senate budget committee with a shrug: “This level of talent and expertise comes with a price tag,” he said. http://www.njspotlight.com/stories/12/0330/0013/

  21. Jeffrey Todd

    Great piece! Christie is not a bright man, but he is not stupid enough to nominate Brian as Commissioner. The negative light that would shine on him would be too bright. No, he’ll choose a soulless minority candidate. Sort of like the Native Americans who allow their reservations to be overrun by Capitalists.

  22. Thomas Zychowski

    Zychowski is doing a great job. I guess the issue is the salary and his friendship with Christie. Should Zychowski be punished for living in proximity to Christie and being a great salary negotiator?

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