On a Wednesday afternoon, March 16 in the auditorium of the Culver City Middle School, the school board met to vote on only one item; the confirmation of Patti Jaffe as the Superintendent of Schools. While no school board meeting is ever totally free of dissent, this was as close as it could get. The board voted 4 to 1 to confirm, and the room erupted in cheers. It was a unique moment for the school district, and one to be studied and savored.
While President Scott Zeidman called the meeting to order with four members seated, Teachers Union President David Meilke was the only speaker to submit a card. Meilke stated “We have the correct candidate, but the wrong contract.” He went on to suggest that offering Jaffe a salary of $201,000 would create a taller step for the next superintendent to start on. With all the financial distress in the district, Meilke thought it was a bad move on the part of the board. “On a personal note,” he continued, “[Jaffe] was by far the easiest to work with, most capable, and most concerned” of any of the superintendents he had worked with in the district.
The room burst into applause as Pat Siever came running in to complete the board, and she seated herself with a breathless apology.
Without speaker cards, many others came up to the microphone just to applaud the decision and offer their support. Kelly Nolan, high school English department chair, was followed by Doyle Hankes, a teacher at the middle school, who both congratulated Jaffe and added their personal accolades. Hankes even admitted he had not thought of speaking, saying “my hand just went up.
“It’s been a long time since we had a superintendent who comes to see us every day,” said Barbara Pierello of the classified employees of the district, “who knows our names, who cares about what we care about.”
Coach Jerry Chabola offered “I know we are in for a rocky road, and we appreciate what you are doing and what you’ve done.” He noted that with the dark financial clouds, it was important to have a leader who connected, and who cared.
Jaffe’s face shone with a smile and tears came to her eyes as people came up to offer their personal congratulations and praise her long career in the district.
As the board offered their remarks before the vote, Karlo Silbiger spoke first. “I feel there a sense in the community that I’m not a fan of Ms. Jaffe’s and that’s not true. My concern is about our finances.” He asked the board to bifurcate the motion so that he might vote in favor of Jaffe, but against the contract, which seemed to him to be too rich.
Pat Siever, who had also been seen as anti-Jaffe in previous meetings, spoke to clarify her position. “I was concerned about changing things in the middle of the process, I wish we had done this as the beginning. I absolutely respect her, and I am very proud that she is the superintendent –elect.”
When Kathy Paspalis spoke, she applauded what Patti “has accomplished during her time as the interim, and I’m pleased.”
Steve Gourley passed on the opportunity to comment, leaving the floor to Zeidman.
As he introduced item 8.1, approval of the contract and the hiring of the superintendent he noted “When we began this process we hired the best superintendent search firm and they taught us quite a bit. In calculating the salary package for a superintendent, you look at the other districts in the area, and the superintendent candidate’s prior salary. So whatever we would choose to pay Patti Jaffe right now will have zero affect on our next superintendent’s beginning salary 20 years down the road.”
Supported by a raft of information about eight other districts from Palos Verdes to Santa Monica/Malibu, and quoting salaries as high as $341,000, Zeidman made a complete case that there was nothing about Jaffe’s proposed contract that the board needed to change.
With a motion Paspalis seconded by Siever, all board members except Silbiger voted yes, and the room bursting into cheering and applause. A standing ovation lasted more than a minute, and when Zeidman offered Jaffe a moment to comment, she wiped a tear from her eyes.
“First of all, this is amazing. I actually started at this district as an assistant in special ed, and I am truly honored. Each day I look at a plaque that my husband gave me, and it says [the famous quotation from Margaret Mead] ‘Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the word. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’ I thank you and I look forward to working with this remarkable team.”
As often happens on happy occasions, there was cake.