He was hired to fix California schools — while running a business in Philadelphia


California schools have a few of the widest achievement gaps in the nation. | Richard Vogel/AP Photograph

SACRAMENTO — California’s first superintendent of fairness lives in Philadelphia and has a separate job there, greater than 2,500 miles away from the schools he advises as one of many highest paid officers in the state Division of Training, in accordance to information and interviews.

Daniel Lee, a psychologist, life coach and self-help writer, owns a Pennsylvania-based psychology firm and is the president of the New Jersey Psychological Affiliation’s executive board. He has additionally been serving as a deputy superintendent for the California Division of Training since July 2020, a position devoted to the success of kids of coloration that was initially backed by a basis grant however is now funded by state taxpayers.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, who was instrumental in the hiring, has identified Lee for greater than twenty years since they had been social staff in Philadelphia and included Lee in his wedding ceremony occasion. The Training Division’s nonprofit affiliate initially hired Lee with out publicly posting the job that now pays up to $179,832, and Lee’s 18-page resume exhibits no prior expertise in California or relationships with faculty districts in the state.

Lee, 51, voted in Philadelphia as lately as November and owns a residence there, in accordance to native information. California schooling and taxpayer advocates questioned why the state hired somebody residing throughout the nation with different duties to deal with persistent inequities in the nation’s largest faculty inhabitants. The hiring seems to flout California coverage, which permits few exceptions for a state worker to stay elsewhere.

“There are a variety of folks in California very nicely certified in our universities and academic establishments who may do that work,” mentioned Carl Pinkston, director of the Black Parallel College Board in Sacramento, which is suing the state over disciplinary practices for college kids of coloration. “No matter who it’s, to have somebody from out of state who shouldn’t be aware of California’s dynamics and politics and challenges come in and try to do that work solely furthers the basic downside, which is that the California Division of Training fails to adequately monitor schools for inequities and push for enforcement.”

Thurmond on Friday defended Lee’s hiring and mentioned he was the very best individual for the job, describing him as “anyone that I wished to rent for a very long time however he lived out of state. The pandemic opened the door for me to rent somebody who’s prime of his class.”

The state schools chief mentioned he knew of “no particular residency necessities” for state staff. When requested if others had been interviewed for the fairness job in addition to Lee, Thurmond mentioned, “I am unable to recall.” Thurmond attended Temple College in Philadelphia similtaneously Lee in the Nineteen Nineties however mentioned they didn’t know one another till they grew to become social staff.

“The truth that we’ve identified one another for 30 years … if he is doing nice high quality work, what distinction does it make how lengthy we have identified one another?” Thurmond mentioned in an interview Friday.

Lee answered the door final month at his Philadelphia business deal with in a home alongside a residential avenue however declined to communicate to POLITICO and didn’t return cellphone calls. A Nexis search exhibits no previous or present addresses in California.

Mary Properly, chief deputy of the California Division of Training, defended Lee’s long-distance standing. Whilst college students, lecturers and directors have returned to campuses this faculty yr, Properly prompt that Lee’s location is much less related due to distant work practices throughout the pandemic.

“I feel Dr. Lee has been ready to do his job greater than adequately out of state. He’s all the time in scheduled conferences with us, he’s all the time obtainable,” Properly mentioned. “All components of the state and nation are working remotely now as a result of they’ll. It shouldn’t matter the place you’re headquartered in case you are the very best individual to lead this work. You’ll be able to solely discover so many individuals who stay in Sacramento. The flexibility to work remotely provides us entry to actually unimaginable people who find themselves uniquely certified.”

However Pinkston mentioned the Training Division wants somebody on the bottom who can maintain faculty officers accountable for inequitable companies.

Lee’s long-distance appointment could run afoul of California guidelines for state staff. His association is being reported for the primary time by POLITICO.

“State employment is for California residents until the job requires a completely different location,” mentioned Amy Palmer, spokesperson for the California Authorities Operations Company, which runs human assets for the state.

Palmer pointed to uncommon allowances, akin to these lobbying Washington, D.C. on behalf of California. “We’re working to present readability in the state telework coverage to guarantee it’s clear that teleworking doesn’t change the definition of state employment.”

Thurmond, a former Democratic state lawmaker, was elected as state superintendent of public instruction in 2018 and oversees the California Division of Training, which has greater than 2,100 workers. He has struggled to retain high-level workers. Almost two dozen senior officers have fled the company since he took workplace and several other accused him of making a poisonous office.

A spokesperson for CDE didn’t present Lee’s actual wage, however mentioned it’s in the vary of $161,400 and $179,832. Comparably, Thurmond, an elected statewide constitutional officer, earned $182,189 over the previous yr, a degree decided by a state fee.

Properly mentioned the division didn’t give preferential remedy to Lee due to his ties to Thurmond and thought of others for the place in-state. However the job was not posted publicly, she mentioned.

“[Thurmond] knew [Lee] had accomplished this work and will do what we have not been ready to do in the state of California. We discovered the person who we’ve not been ready to discover, who simply occurs to be somebody who the superintendent has identified for years and has labored along with for years,” Properly mentioned.

California Division of Training spokesperson Maria Clayton mentioned the division is “exploring new practices and insurance policies round teleworking to optimize what we’ve seen work throughout the pandemic” however that there are “no finalized insurance policies.”

David Kline, a spokesperson for the California Taxpayers Affiliation, mentioned taxpayers count on that state staff reside in the state.

“The taxpayers right here would count on that the folks working for the federal government are additionally residing in the neighborhood in order that they expertise the consequences of the legal guidelines and insurance policies they’re enacting,” Kline mentioned. “It could even be higher for California if this worker was shopping for issues right here and serving to the economic system and paying taxes.”

Addressing fairness gaps in California

Lee’s position, the primary of its sort, will “carry cohesion in all the CDE’s fairness work,” targeted on counseling, social emotional studying “and different complete youngster packages,” in accordance to the Division of Training’s web site. He is head of the state company’s fairness department, which Thurmond created in August shortly after Lee’s hiring.

Division of Training officers pointed to Lee coaching workers on implicit bias after the 2020 police killing of George Floyd as a part of his work. In October, Lee spoke to the state Meeting Training Committee in-person in Sacramento to help Okay-12 scholar psychological well being laws. He has additionally participated in digital occasions hosted by CDE on psychological well being and fairness points.

In accordance to Lee’s Philadelphia-based business web site, he provides a slew of companies as principal guide of N-Psy-T Psychological Providers, together with private remedy and company management coaching. He additionally has held authorities contracts with shoppers just like the College District of Philadelphia. He has overseen the corporate for 17 years, in accordance to his LinkedIn page, which doesn’t checklist his California place.

The creation of the statewide equity-centered position comes as Thurmond and the Division of Training face a lawsuit for allegedly failing to maintain schools accountable for inequity in self-discipline practices. Black college students comprised about 5 p.c of California’s whole scholar enrollment however 15 p.c of suspensions final yr, in accordance to the most recent Division of Training information.

California schools have a few of the widest achievement gaps in the nation. About 20 p.c of Black college students in California met math requirements in contrast to 54 p.c of white college students in 2018-19, in accordance to the most recent state information obtainable. About 33 p.c of Black college students met English and language arts targets in contrast to greater than 65 p.c of white college students.

“We’re glad that fairness is on the California Division of Training’s radar, however what we actually want is powerful monitoring and oversight to maintain faculty districts accountable and create concrete options for the racial disparities we’re seeing,” mentioned Alexandra Santa Ana, an lawyer with the Oakland-based Equal Justice Society. “It makes you surprise how in depth into the work [Lee] would have the option to be and what actual change he would have the option to implement.”

California hires prime workers by way of schooling basis

Lee’s wage was initially funded by way of a part of a $700,000 grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Basis “for help of fairness and analysis efforts throughout the state of California” over a two-year span. Lee has since moved to the official California Division of Training payroll.

The nonpartisan Hewlett Basis awarded the grant to the Californians Devoted to Training Basis, a nonprofit that companions with the state Division of Training and preceded Thurmond’s tenure. The CDE Basis “made the choice about how to spend the funds and who needs to be hired,” mentioned Neha Gohil, a spokesperson for the Hewlett Basis, including that Hewlett was not concerned in the hiring course of.

In October, Thurmond introduced two extra new positions in the highest California Division of Training ranks, each funded with assist from the CDE Basis. Steve Zimmer, a former Los Angeles Unified faculty board member, was named deputy superintendent of Thurmond’s initiatives workplace. Deanna Niebuhr, California coverage director at the Berkeley-based Opportunity Institute, was named neighborhood schools coordinator.

The California Division of Training declined to share Zimmer and Niebuhr’s wage data, saying that they’re CDE Basis workers. The muse additionally declined to present that information.

“We often present fiscal administration help for grants in help of state packages. As a personnel matter, we do not make wage data public,” mentioned Nancy Kirshner-Rodriguez, chair of the inspiration.

Kirshner-Rodriguez mentioned the CDE basis was based greater than a decade in the past “to accomplish necessary work to enhance public schooling throughout California.”

Carly Sitrin contributed to this report.