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Superintendent of schools could leave for Walled Lake

September 29, 2010 - Last June, the Lake Orion Board of Education thought it had Superintendent Ken Gutman for three more years when it passed his current three-year contract, 4-2.

Now, just three months later, Gutman could be leaving the district for good. He's been a finalist in the last two rounds of interviews for the vacant superintendent position at Walled Lake Consolidated School District (WLCSD); one Wednesday, Sept. 22 and one Monday, Sept. 27.

Walled Lake's former superintendent, William Hamilton, retired June 3. According to the district's Web site, they're hoping to have a replacement by the beginning of November. Hamilton's 2009 salary and benefit information on site was $206,000 in wages, plus benefits for a total $292,400 in compensation. Currently, Gutman's salary is $149,000, plus benefits.

WLCSD is considerably larger than Lake Orion's with three high schools, four middle schools and 14 elementary schools, housing nearly 16,000 students. Lake Orion has one high school, three middle schools, seven elementary schools and just over 7,000 students.

Gutman did not return The Review's calls for comment.

School Board President Mary Jo Burchart said she was both "surprised" and "let down" after learning Gutman had applied to Walled Lake, "partly because of his previous discussions regarding his commitment to the district."

She noted that there was no indication he was seeking employment elsewhere until he told the board of his interview with Walled Lake.

"I know that he has been approached by other districts before now, but to my knowledge, this is the first opening to which he has applied," Burchart said.

One of the reasons for offering Gutman the new contract was his commitment to Lake Orion students. At the board's May 12 meeting, Boardmember Janet Wolverton said, "In our time of change that we're going to be going through… there's no better time to have stability at the helm."

Burchart said she was looking to keep Gutman through implementation of the strategic plan over the next three to five years.

"I think it's really important to have some stability at the top as we move that plan into place," she said and Boardmember Tiffany Weber-Phillips agreed.

Boardmember Bob Gritzinger was one of the dissenting votes in deciding to give Gutman the three-year contract. He asked Gutman, "If you're committed to this district, do you need a contract to hold you in place?... I don't think you need a three-year contract to do what's right for the kids in the district."

Gutman replied, "I'm committed to the children in this district – always have been."

But, knowing now that Gutman might leave Lake Orion for Walled Lake, Burchart said she would likely still be in favor of offering him the same contract as the board did in June.

"Regardless of the individual, there were important items that needed inclusion in that contract. I believe the biggest reason for the soundness of the decision was the cut in his pay and the change in benefits," she said.

Looking forward, the school board president says strategic planning will continue to move forward, no matter who is at the helm.

"The whole premise of strategic planning is that it is produced through the recommendations of many stakeholders, so it does not have a single 'owner.' As a Board, we have approved the goals and we are committed to seeing this process through, with whoever is our superintendent," she said.

Reporter, Lake Orion Review
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