California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond speaks at a press conference at Blue Oak Elementary School in Shingle Springs, CA on October 31, 2019. Teachers and administrators ensured that the school would remain open for instruction despite a pubic safety outage. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

(CALMATTERS) – It hasn’t been a good week for California’s statewide elected officials.

On Tuesday, the Sacramento Bee reported that Treasurer Fiona Ma — who is facing a sexual harassment lawsuit from a former employee — frequently shared hotel rooms with staff, a practice she said saved the state money. And on Wednesday, Politico reported that Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond allegedly created such a hostile and toxic work environment that nearly two dozen top officials have fled the agency since 2019, when he took over as California’s schools chief.

It’s the latest story to raise questions about how Thurmond is wielding the power of his office — in March, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reported that Thurmond had remained largely behind the scenes during the pandemic, despite the disruption to 6 million students’ education.

A few examples illustrating the level of turnover at the California Department of Education since Thurmond took over:

  • Nine officials have been assigned to help oversee State Special Schools, which leads education for deaf and blind students.
  • Thurmond has had three directors of communications and three chief deputies of public instruction — the department’s No. 2 officer — in less than three years.

In a sign that Thurmond is taking the allegations seriously ahead of next year’s election, he retained Nathan Click, a longtime Newsom spokesman, as a crisis communications consultant. And a Wednesday press conference at which Thurmond was scheduled to unveil “a new effort to improve African American student achievement in the state” was cancelled, though the superintendent did visit a wildfire-affected school to pass out face masks and gift cards.