October 19, 2021

Thurmond churns through top aides in allegedly toxic workplace

Nearly two dozen senior officials have fled California’s top education agency since Tony Thurmond became state schools superintendent in 2019, with several of them accusing him of creating a toxic workplace that burned through staff with decades of experience.

Nine former state education officials said that morale is so low and turnover so high that CDE cannot efficiently operate as Thurmond allegedly humiliated and intimidated staff. The former officials once in Thurmond’s inner circle spoke to POLITICO on the condition of anonymity because they are still working in education and worried about retribution.

Two of the former aides said that the department executive team was asked to proclaim aloud that they were “all in on Team Thurmond” at a meeting last year. Seven of the former top officials said that anyone who disagreed with Thurmond on policy matters or did anything he felt could hurt his public image was accused of being insubordinate or disrespectful.

Some said working under him impacted their mental health. Three former employees compared it to being in an abusive relationship or having an abusive parent — where aides walked on eggshells and cried on the job. Former officials described hostile exchanges and three of them provided texts and video to POLITICO to corroborate incidents, but they did not want specifics published out of concern the details could identify them.

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