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Picketers seek a three-year contract, too

LOHS teacher Sandy Pinchback and other staff picketed before the school boards’ May 26 meeting. Photos by Megan Collier (click for larger version)
June 02, 2010 - "Biggest cuts from the top."

"Why three? Why now?"

"Honesty and ethics."

"A true eight percent?"

Those were the messages scrawled across picketing signs held by several dozen Lake Orion school union members, May 26.

The group marched around the district's administration building in scorching weather before the school board's meeting, in anticipation of a potential vote on Superintendent Ken Gutman's contract.

During the meeting, some boardmembers were accused of rushing the vote while others were accused of stalling.

In the end, the vote was postponed after several boardmembers found the proposal to be lacking final contract language. No date was set for more discussion or a possible vote.

The proposal, first brought up April 28 by the board's human resources committee, included an eight percent reduction in Gutman's base salary, upping his contribution to healthcare to five percent and a new three year agreement, essentially extending his stint in Lake Orion two additional years past the current contract.

"If they're going to offer the superintendent a three-year contract, then maybe they ought to be looking at the unions," said Lake Orion High School teacher Leann Lowe, with sign in hand outside the administration building. "The state's making cuts, we're facing cuts all the way around – certainly everybody is facing cuts. We just don't want the cuts to come down harder on one group than another group. Let's be transparent and really look at figures correctly."

Local American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) 1472 President Kathy Sandstrom was also there with a sign.

"We want everything to be equal. If they're going to offer Ken [Gutman] a three-year contract, we all want a three-year contract. We want security in our jobs, too," she said.

School staff from several different unions held signs asking for ethics and equality in their contracts as well as in the superintendent’s. (click for larger version)
Their sentiments were echoed by boardmembers during the meeting.

According to Treasurer Jim Weidman, Gutman's proposed eight percent salary cut will appear as only a four percent cut. His current contract says he should be making $164,529 in 2010-11, which is what the eight percent ($13,162) is based on. But, since he froze his salary at the 2008-09 level, $158,140, he'll really be making around a four percent cut ($6,325).

"Our employees will look at his salary at what it is this year and what it is next year, not what it could have been next year," said Boardmember Bob Gritzinger. "If we're expecting other staff to pick up a seven and a half percent reduction, and they look at [Gutman's] four percent – why would they do that?"

Gritzinger, Weidman and Vice President Mary Jo Burchart took issue with the contract proposal lacking final legal language.

"Would this board sign any kind of contract without seeing the final contract?" asked Weidman, which ultimately prompted Tina Peterson, board secretary, to remove her support of a motion to vote on the proposal, effectively killing discussion and the vote that evening.

The proposed contract still does not include health insurance costs because shopping rates for just one employee doesn't carry enough weight for a good price, said Assistant Superintendent Jillynn Keppler. Gutman's insurance will be shopped around along with other employees to get a better price, though numbers won't be available for some time.

Boardmember Janet Wolverton originally made the motion to approve the contract and noted she was in full support of it.

"We have a solid performer and employee who works ridiculous amounts of hours, and this proposal is going to reduce his total comp. down to where the superintendent of 2004 was paid. I think we'd be crazy to not lock it in for two more years. It illustrates perfectly what 'lead by example' means," she said.

She added, "If any employee group wants to go back to the wages or pay scales of 2004 and lock it in for the next three years, I'd say let's do it."

Outgoing Board President Bill Walters said he wanted to approve the contract as a way to reward the superintendent for a job well done.

"It's the only reward we have to give to an employee who's doing a great job, and we have strategic planning and several other educational initiatives that need his leadership going forward," he said.

Walters added, "Ken [Gutman] came to me in February and wanted to present a cut in his salary – five percent. I said that would look like grandstanding in my mind and we need to wait until we get firmer numbers from our budget. So we put it off. Meanwhile the public is calling for it, and frequently boardmembers are saying 'What about the superintendent setting an example?' So now, we're trying to bring an example to set. I think we have a solid offer and we ought to take it at this point," he said.

Weidman maintained that with so many unknowns, he would not be in favor of signing a new contract.

"We have a superintendent with a little over a year left on his contract. We don't have solid health insurance numbers, we don't have solid projections for next year, and we have some potential retirement exposure that we haven't calculated into our overall budget. The real decrease for this coming year in wages is in the four-percent realm from where wages are this year, with no decreases the following two years, I can't find myself supporting this at this current time," he said.

Reporter, Lake Orion Review
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