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Superintendent contract proposal surprises board

May 05, 2010 - At 7 p.m., the board room in Lake Orion Community School's administration building was packed with presenters, parents, teachers and an occasional student, April 28.

But four and a half hours later, a meager audience of five was left to hear the board's human resources committee propose a 10 percent cut and a new three-year contract for Superintendent Ken Gutman.

Some boardmembers were taken aback when the proposal included a new contract, and others believed more needed to be trimmed from Gutman's compensation package. In the end, the board decided to wait to make a decision on both issues, as hard information on insurance prices won't come for several weeks.

"I'm a little surprised by this," said Board Treasurer Jim Weidman, of the proposed new contract. Weidman is not on the HR committee and said he didn't know it was in the works until he picked up his board packet Friday before the meeting.

Both Weidman and Boardmember Bob Gritzinger took issue with the surprise.

"Typically the committee's direction comes from the board. Maybe, in the general sense, the direction was that we need administrative cost reductions, but carrying that to three-year extensions is a different thing," Gritzinger said.

Weidman said, "We didn't discuss this previously. We discussed wages and compensation for next year. We never talked about a contract extension, so this came as brand new information."

According to Bill Walters, board president, discussion among committee members and Gutman simply flowed from salary and benefit concessions to extending Gutman's stint in the district during their meeting.

"The call was to create a reduction in wage and compensation. In order to do that, it's a negotiated item. Ken said, 'I would like to see a longer contract.' We have the strategic plan, academic programs in play, the revision of middle school, and we wanted to say to the employee, 'Yes, we need your stability over the next three years," Walters said.

Details of the new contract proposal included reducing Gutman's 2010/11 contract base salary by eight percent, to $151,266, reducing all other compensation to 2008/09 levels, (tax deferred compensation - $15,814, transportation - $7,250, and longevity - $4,275) and a two-percent employee contribution to healthcare costs.

The total package ends up being around a ten percent reduction, according to Walters.

The committee's three-year contract proposal would freeze the superintendent's compensation package at that level.

The contract also includes "openers" as a way to allow for future changes in compensation – both up and down – to the superintendent's contract.

"I agree with the three year contract because it has openers in there. If it was a contract without any openers, I would have more reservations about it," said Tiffany Weber-Phillips, who served on the HR committee. She added, "I think what this does is show that we have a commitment to him, and he will show a commitment to us."

Walters said the proposed cuts in compensation would "create a leadership position for change" that will be palatable for other employee groups to follow.

Weidman and Gritzinger didn't agree.

"I think, in terms of taking a leadership position, that the compensation reduction is not where it needs to be," said Weidman, noting that cuts in the private sector are much greater than in the public sector. "Two percent [employee contributions to health insurance] is nothing. The national average is 26 percent. That's why I'm saying we have to get real about this."

Mary Jo Burchart, who serves on the HR committee also said she thought the proposed two percent was "low."

Gutman noted that administrators are working toward leaving MESSA, their current insurer, to something less expensive.

At the end of the discussion, Gritzinger expressed his thanks to the superintendent for his willingness to negotiate.

"This is good progress and it's appreciated. It gets us going in the right direction, sadly, for what we're dealing with. It's highly appreciated that someone with a contract in place is even entertaining this," he said.

Check future Reviews for further coverage on this and other school issues.

Reporter, Lake Orion Review
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