Kevin Dehmer, a 16-year veteran and leader at the Murphy Administration’s Department of Education, handed in his resignation letter late last week. Politico got a copy of an email written by new DOE Chief-of-Staff Julie Bunt, who says Dehmer is “transitioning” out of the department. “We wish Assistant Commissioner Dehmer the absolute best in his future endeavors, and will provide additional information as it becomes available,” Bunt wrote.
Thus, Dehmer’s current position, Assistant Commissioner and Chief Finance Officer, will be empty, adding to what Carly Sitrin at Politico says are the current 147 vacancies at the DOE, a department that is “strained and understaffed” with a “serious lack of institutional knowledge, according to several sources.”
NJ Education Report readers have read quite a bit about Dehmer, especially after Murphy’s first Education Commissioner, Lamont Repollet, abruptly left for the top slot at Kean University (and a doubling of salary). Dehmer became Acting Commissioner at a time of much discontent among legislators and families with the DOE’s lackluster guidance while schools were closed and then remote during the worst of COVID. Some speculated that Murphy was having trouble filling that position, which is why he temporarily appointed Dehmer.
At a September 2020 Senate Budget Committee hearing, Dehmer made the mistake of using the notoriously inaccurate US News and World Report school and state rankings to boast that NJ had the best schools in the country, even while the DOE had decided to not bother collecting data on student learning loss. Senator Teresa Ruiz shot back,
‘If we don’t have baseline data to show to us what is it that we need to do,’ Ruiz responded, ‘we will be perpetuating a fraud of being No. 1 in the country. And that has got to stop.’
A week before that, Dehmer was forced into the awkward position of defending the DOE’s desultory efforts to bridge the digital divide, i.e., ensure that students had the necessary laptops and broadband to access remote instruction. Before Repollet left for Kean, he had told legislators that only 80,00-90,000 students didn’t have internet or one-on-one devices. At that State Board of Education meeting. Dehmer confessed that when the DOE did an audit of how many kids lacked either internet, one-on-one devices, or both, the number was actually more than 350,000 students, or one out of every four students.
Dehmer is not the only highly-placed DOE staff member leaving for greener pastures. Politico also lists Mackey Pendergrast (former Assistant Commissioner for Teaching and Learning), Lisa Gleason (Assistant Commissioner in the Division of Academics and Performance), and and Tonya Breland, the former Director of the Office of Professional Learning.