A packed Board room cheered loudly Tuesday night as the Culver City School Board voted to amend the interim superintendent agreement with Patricia Jaffe, enabling her to be considered for the permanent superintendent post.
The 3-1-1 vote (Karlo Silbiger voted against the amendment and Patricia Siever abstained) came after numerous emails, phone calls, and comments by a number of speakers who gave their enthusiastic support to Jaffe. But not everyone thought the amendment was the right thing to do.
“I’m all for Jaffe becoming the permanent superintendent,” said George Laasse during public comment. “But not this way. It may be legal but is it right to change the rules so close to the edge of the search?”
That search began in June when the Board and District received the sudden announcement of Dr. Myrna Rivera Cote’s resignation to take a position closer to her home. As Board member Karlo Silbiger explained, at that time the Board decided to conduct a search with the help of a reputable search firm. This process, they knew, would be lengthy, so they decided to hire an interim superintendent.
“We made it very clear at that time that we did not want an interim superintendent who would want the permanent job,” said Silbiger. He listed the reasons for this: an interim superintendent would be needed to focus on the job at hand rather than competing in the search; the Board wanted “a complete semblance of fairness throughout the process-no undue advantage;” and the Board wanted to conduct “a through search,”
For this reason, language appeared in the interim agreement between the Board and Jaffe: ”The parties agree and acknowledge that the Interim Superintendent is not eligible for the position of ‘New’ or ‘Full-Time’ Superintendent with the Culver City Unified School District at any time prior to July 1, 2012.”
It was this language that Jaffe supporters wanted to see amended. However, as Silbiger also pointed out, there had been no immediate action proposed to amend the language when the agreement was first signed last summer. A grassroots campaign to change the agreement has been growing since that time but Silbiger felt it was not timely, as the Jaffe supporters had had their chance. And while it might be technically legal to change the language, Silbiger expressed concern that changing the terms of the agreement at this late point in the search could “set a terrible precedent,” could “cause great damage to our District’s reputation,” and might discourage future candidates from applying for positions with CCUSD.
The speakers in Public Comment did not share Silbiger’s concerns. “To not allow Jaffe to apply would undermine the process,” said Alan Elmont. Federation of Teachers president David Mielke praised Jaffe for being great to work with on union issues and also had personal praise for her interest in his own son’s class work.
Many accolades were given regarding Jaffe’s constant commitment to the students and to education; her readiness to help out at all times; her graciousness; her visits to school sites (“she visited more times than all the former superintendents put together,” said one speaker); and her concern for human needs (a teacher said Jaffe had literally saved her life by allowing her a year off to recover from cancer).
When all was said by members of the community, it was up to the Board. All five members emphasized that they also had the utmost respect for Jaffe’s achievements and that the decision on the process was “not personal.”
Patricia Siever said she believed in upholding the process. She thought that the amending of the agreement resembled Machiavelli’s “The end justifies the means,” as an example of what a school system should not be doing, especially in setting an example for students.
Student Board member Jamie McIntosh, speaking in the advisory capacity granted her by the Board, said that Culver City High’s ASB was behind Jaffe and that it would be a shame to pass on the opportunity to allow her to apply for the job.
Board president Scott Zeidman asked: “What are our priorities?” and stated that the Culver City School District has a duty to its residents, staff, students, voters, and that this duty outweighs the duty to “job seekers.”
A motion was made, seconded and a vote taken, while the audience murmured. With three votes carrying the majority, the language prohibiting Jaffe from consideration was deleted, paving the way for the Board to allow Jaffe to enter into consideration for the permanent superintendent post, along with other candidates whose names and number are undisclosed at this time due to confidentiality.
The Board also gave American Citizenship Awards to the following students:
El Marino: Arthur Baxter Hamilton
El Rincon: Danielle Kim
Linwood E. Howe: Kathryn Bancroft
Farragut: Daniel Valduban
La Ballona: Lorena Alvarado
Culver City Middle: Liam Naughton
Culver City High: Adam Friedman
Culver Park: Kevin McKinney