stringsPre-K students playing string instruments greeted Education Commissioner Bret Schundler, in red tie, during his visit to the Red Bank Primary School this morning. (Click to enlarge)

He came, he listened, and he got choked up on his own words about “the vision of a beloved society” that quality education promises.

But one thing New Jersey Education Commissioner Bret Schundler did not do on a visit to Red Bank this morning was talk about a report that he’d gotten a dressing-down over the phone by Governor Chris Christie last Friday.

“It’s a great day to visit Red Bank Primary School,” Schundler said with a smile, when asked if a Star-Ledger report that Christie “tore into” him over a deal with the state teachers’ union was accurate.

12th-dist-legSchundler, right, with 12th-district Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande, Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon and state Senator Jen Beck. (Click to enlarge)

Schundler’s visit was part of a campaign to tout the state’s application for federal Race to the Top grants that could bring $400 million into the state. He called the program “an endorsement by our federal government of what we’re doing in New Jersey” to bolster education.

Schundler spoke after borough schools Superintendent Laura Morana gave a presentation larded with education-management jargon about the district‘s efforts to prepare students lige in high school and beyond, using clear goals and data to measure progress. Schundler told the audience of teachers, parents, school board members and students in the school library that Morana’s remarks were clearly meant for him, and offered praise for the district’s efforts to improve educational results.

“I think Red Bank is a really good place to capture a glimpse of what that can mean,” he said.

But it was the state’s Race to the Top application that, according to the Sledger, landed Schundler in hot water with his boss late last week after Schundler negotiated a compromise with the New Jersey Education Association over how to divvy up money for merit pay should the state land the grant. Christie nixed the deal, and “publicly scolded” Schundler for having made it, the newspaper reported.

From the Sledger:

The union said it learned of the reversal when it called Schundler’s office Tuesday for an update.

Christie, who has engaged in a sustained attack on the NJEA since last year’s gubernatorial campaign, was unfazed by the union’s reaction. He minced no words in blaming Schundler either, stressing he will not budge from his core beliefs on how New Jersey’s schools can be improved.

“This is my administration, I’m responsible for it, and I make the decisions,” Christie told reporters during a news conference in West Trenton. “I’m sure we’ll have disagreements in the future. Hopefully, we’ll just handle them a little differently.”

… The governor said he only learned of the Schundler-NJEA compromise after reading about it in the press. He tore into Schundler on the telephone Friday, one person familiar with the conversation said.