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SPC trustees give Kuttler half the money he wanted

ST. PETERSBURG —Hoping to end months of discord over the pay package for its former president, St. Petersburg College trustees voted Tuesday to pay Carl Kuttler $339,501, about half of what he requested.

Kuttler, who retired Dec. 31, sought $679,765. But after a labor and employment law firm reviewed the request, it concluded that state law allowed Kuttler only 720 hours of sick time. He wanted 2,912 hours.

So instead of $588,972, the law firm concluded that he should receive $139,342 in unpaid sick leave.

Kuttler already had been paid $306,065 in early disbursements for the sick time. So rather than have Kuttler return any money and possibly lodge a legal challenge, the trustees granted him a year's salary of $135,089. The law firm advised that although the extra salary wasn't in Kuttler's contract, Florida law allowed it.

The only claim Kuttler made that was deemed valid was $65,071 in unpaid vacation time, which he had already been paid.

Kuttler didn't attend Tuesday's meeting and couldn't be reached later for comment. Joe Lang, attorney for the board of trustees, said Kuttler told him on Sunday that he supported the law firm's recommendation.

Trustees discussed the settlement less than 10 minutes before unanimously approving Kuttler's compensation.

"This board may have fumbled the ball at first, but we recovered at the end," said Ken Burke, a trustee and clerk of the Circuit Court for Pinellas County.

Late last year, Kuttler unexpectedly announced his retirement from the post he had held since 1978. The decision left the board grappling with the question of the compensation Kuttler was requesting.

His initial request of $684,000 included a $185,788 reimbursement for an unused sabbatical. After a public backlash, Kuttler submitted a new request two weeks later that ditched the sabbatical reimbursement. Still, according to a St. Petersburg Times analysis, the new request still amounted to nearly $680,000 because it included more sick leave.

To determine how much he was legally owed, the college paid Ford & Harrison, a labor and employment firm in Tampa, to analyze the issue. Its 10-page report was completed last week.

It concluded that Kuttler had a right to only $204,412, and that the most the board should pay, if it chose to award him an extra salary, was $339,501.

Though Tuesday's settlement took trustees only minutes to approve, they needed weeks to resolve a series of complex legal and compensation issues.

Lang, who as the board's attorney also represented Kuttler, said he initially disagreed with Ford & Harrison's finding. He relented because he understood that state law trumped whatever sick pay Kuttler had been promised in his contract, he said.

Lang said Tuesday's vote resolves an issue that had taken everyone by surprise.

"It came like a bombshell," he said. "No one expected him to quit."

Indeed, by doing so before June 30, 2011, Kuttler walked away from at least $1.3 million that he could have claimed for compensation, Lang said.

Asked why Kuttler decided to retire early from a job everyone said he enjoyed, Lang said he didn't know.

"He doesn't give me a really good answer," he said.

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or mvansickler@sptimes.com.

Fast facts

Calculating pay

How St. Petersburg College figured out how much to pay Kuttler:

Approved: unused vacation: $65,071

Approved: unused sick leave: $139,342

Denied: car expenses: $25,692

Denied: unpaid sick leave: $449,631

Approved: bonus annual salary: $135,088

Total amount compensated: $339,501

Source: Joe Lang, attorney, St. Petersburg College board of trustees

SPC trustees give Kuttler half the money he wanted 02/23/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 23, 2010 11:50pm]
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