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Deal for St. Petersburg College's retiring president could take months to sort out

Discussions to settle outgoing St. Petersburg College president Carl Kuttler's contract took a new turn Tuesday after college trustees learned they already had paid Kuttler $306,065 for unused sick time.

But the college may still owe Kuttler $282,907 more in sick time, the board's attorney says.

And almost $680,000 overall.

The new figures further complicate Kuttler's messy departure from the school he has led since 1978. Two weeks ago, Kuttler said he was owed about $684,000 for unused sick and vacation time, as well as a sabbatical he never took.

The sabbatical is now off the table, according to the latest round of negotiations, but the overall payout trustees must consider is almost identical: $679,765.

The difference was made up by an increase in unpaid sick leave, which was believed to be $271,385 two weeks ago, but became $588,972.

Officials say the number changed based on a new interpretation of Kuttler's contract, which they believe trumps state laws and school policies. It also factors in $306,065 that college officials discovered they had already paid into Kuttler's retirement account over the previous four years. Trustees approved those payments at a September 2006 meeting.

Trustees delayed a decision on the latest recommendation Tuesday, saying they were uncomfortable with the changing dollar figure. They have asked the state attorney general and an independent employment lawyer to review Kuttler's contract to determine what the college owes.

A decision on Kuttler's contract, which once seemed imminent, now could take months.

"This is the people's money," trustee Deveron Gibbons said. "I'm not giving it away because someone served a long time."

Trustees did agree Tuesday to pay Kuttler $65,071 for unused vacation time. That request was within limits set for college employees, the college said.

Kuttler said Tuesday he still will retire at the end of the year, even as negotiations over his contract continue.

"I wouldn't want one penny that I wasn't entitled to," said Kuttler, 69, who said he is the one who suggested an independent review.

Trustees' attorney Joe Lang entered Tuesday's meeting with an altogether different recommendation than he had just two weeks ago.

On Dec. 1 Lang said trustees should pay Kuttler $500,000 to essentially buy out 18 months of his contract.

On Tuesday Lang recommended a $679,765 payout, though some of that money would be subject to an independent audit.

A majority of the college's five trustees was uncomfortable with the proposal.

"My fear is that a week from now, or a couple weeks from now, we will have some new numbers presented to us that could paint a different picture than what we're looking at now," said board chairman Terry Brett.

Brett noted that if the board had agreed to Lang's original recommendation, Kuttler potentially could have been paid $500,000 on top of the $306,065 he already has received.

Trustees Ken Burke and Gibbons said they also wanted to see logs of Kuttler's sick time to better understand how he could be owed so much. College officials say the records, which are decades old and span several different computing systems, will take time to produce.

Kuttler, who announced he was retiring in July, has been president of the college for 31 years and an employee for 43 years. He will earn about $385,000 in total college compensation in 2009, and is paid almost $80,000 by the not-for-profit St. Petersburg College Foundation, records show.

On top of whatever settlement he reaches with the college, Kuttler will earn $195,000 to $210,000 a year from the Florida Retirement System, school officials estimate.

Trustee Dick Johnston, who was a trustee when the college made Kuttler president in 1978, hoped to move forward with Lang's latest recommendation. He said indecision would produce negative media coverage and hurt morale at the college.

"I wonder when (it's time) to put this issue behind us," Johnston said. "The press keeps playing it, and I don't think it does the college any good. This cloud needs to go away."

>>Fast facts

Changing figures on sick time

The latest on Kuttler's retirement package:

• School officials already have paid Kuttler $306,065 for unused sick days.

• An attorney for the Board Of Trustees says he believes the college could owe Kuttler an additional $373,700.

• Board agrees to pay Kuttler $65,071 for unused vacation days; vows to review other requests.

• Kuttler still plans to retire Dec. 31.

Deal for St. Petersburg College's retiring president could take months to sort out 12/15/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 15, 2009 11:22pm]

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