California education official resigns amid criticism over East Coast residency, hiring process – POLITICO

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

SACRAMENTO — A highly-paid California education administrator who led the state’s equity program from his Philadelphia home has resigned amid criticism over his long-distance status and how he was hired.

The departure comes after POLITICO reported Daniel Lee was named California’s first superintendent of equity last year despite living on the East Coast and running his own business there. California’s human resources department told POLITICO that state workers can live elsewhere only under rare circumstances where out-of-state residency is required for the job, such as staff lobbying Congress in Washington, D.C.

California Department of Education spokesperson Maria Clayton said earlier Monday that the POLITICO story was the first time the agency was aware of such limits on employees. Department officials previously defended the hire as a benefit of widespread remote work conditions during the pandemic.

“Following updated guidance from CalHR, Dr. Lee offered, and we have accepted, his resignation,” Clayton said Tuesday night in a statement. “We thank him for his work building and advancing CDE’s educational equity and student mental health agendas. That important work continues and, in the coming weeks, we will begin the candidate search to fill the position.”

Lee, 51, answered the door last month at his Philadelphia business address along a residential street but declined to speak to POLITICO and did not return phone calls. He was initially hired in 2020 by the California Department of Education’s nonprofit affiliate, but moved into a department position this summer with a salary range between $161,400 and $179,832.

CDE told POLITICO that the nonprofit affiliate never posted Lee’s position publicly. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, who was influential in the hire, has known Lee for nearly three decades since they were social workers in Philadelphia, and they grew close enough that Lee was in Thurmond’s wedding party.

“The fact that we have known each other for 30 years … if he’s doing great quality work, what difference does it make how long we’ve known each other?” Thurmond said in an interview Friday.

Lee was responsible for addressing inequity 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 suit alleging that disciplinary measures disproportionately penalize Black and Latino students unfairly.

In an 18-page resume, Lee seemingly had no prior experience in California schools or relationships with school districts. Carl Pinkston, director of the Black Parallel School Board in Sacramento, which is suing the state over disciplinary practices, criticized Lee’s hire, saying that “to have someone from out of state who is not familiar with California’s dynamics and politics and challenges come in and attempt to do this work only furthers the fundamental problem.”

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