California education official quits amid criticism of east coast residency and hiring process

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Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco, California is pictured. | Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

SACRAMENTO – A well-paid California education administrator who ran the state’s equity program from his home in Philadelphia has resigned amid criticism of his long distance status and the way he was hired.

The departure comes after POLITICO announced that Daniel Lee was appointed California’s first Superintendent of Equity last year, despite living on the East Coast and running his own business there. The California Department of Human Resources told POLITICO that state employees may only live elsewhere in rare circumstances where out-of-state residency is required for work, such as lobbying staff with Congress to Washington, DC

California Department of Education spokeswoman Maria Clayton said earlier Monday that POLITICO’s story was the first time the agency was aware of such limits on employees. Ministry officials have previously defended the hiring as a benefit of widespread remote working conditions during the pandemic.

“Following updated guidance from CalHR, Dr Lee has offered, and we have accepted, his resignation,” Clayton said in a statement Tuesday night. “We thank him for his work in developing and promoting education equity and mental health programs for CDE students. This important work continues and, in the coming weeks, we will begin to search for candidates to fill the position.

Lee, 51, opened the door last month at his business address in Philadelphia along a residential street, but refused to speak to POLITICO and did not answer phone calls. He was originally hired in 2020 by the nonprofit affiliate of the California Department of Education, but held a service position this summer with a salary range between $ 161,400 and $ 179,832.

CDE told POLITICO that the nonprofit affiliate never released Lee’s position publicly. State Superintendent of Education Tony Thurmond, who has been an influence on hiring, has known Lee for nearly three decades since they were social workers in Philadelphia, and they have grown close enough that Lee either at Thurmond’s wedding party.

“The fact that we’ve known each other for 30 years… if he does a great job, what difference does it make for how long we’ve known each other? Thurmond said in an interview on Friday.

Lee was charged with addressing inequality in California schools, which have long suffered from an achievement gap between low-income students of color and more affluent white students. Beyond that, community activists have filed a complaint alleging that disciplinary action disproportionately penalizes black and Latino students unfairly.

In an 18-page resume, Lee apparently had no previous experience in California schools or dealing with school districts. Carl Pinkston, principal of the Black Parallel School Board in Sacramento, which is suing the state for disciplinary practices, criticized Lee’s hiring, saying that “having someone out of state who isn’t familiar with the dynamics, politics and challenges California comes along and attempting to do this work only deepens the fundamental problem.


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