When St. Petersburg College trustees meet this morning to consider outgoing president Carl Kuttler's request for $684,000, they'll be staring at a contract that leaves room for much debate in some places, and little in others.
Trustees have few choices but to award Kuttler as much as $336,000 in unused vacation and sick time, thanks to the generous terms of Kuttler's contract and his decades-long tenure at the college — 31 years as president, 43 years as an employee.
The rest of the $348,000 Kuttler says he is owed, however, will be a policy decision and not a contractual obligation, according to a St. Petersburg Times review of the president's contract.
Kuttler has tried to downplay talks of a fight or disagreement over the terms of his departure. He and trustees chairman Terry Brett believe a settlement can be reached.
But the school's longtime president isn't prepared to simply walk away at the end of the year with nothing.
"When you negotiate a contract, does a contract mean anything?" Kuttler, 69, asked. "I think they (the trustees) thought I was going to stay until I die."
Countered Daryl Schrader, a retired professor who says his settlement was far less generous than what Kuttler is requesting: "Where in the heck does Carl Kuttler get off thinking he should be paid out for all his sick days?
"I also would like to be paid for a sabbatical that I never took," Schrader said. "I spent lots of Sundays and Saturdays, when I'm not in the office, grading papers. I didn't get paid for that. Should I? No. But if he gets paid for extra, I want to be paid."
Kuttler's request caught trustees flat-footed when they first heard it two weeks ago.
Through an attorney, Kuttler told trustees he wanted to be paid about $336,000 for unused sick and vacation time; another $317,000 for an unused sabbatical and other unused days off; and $30,000 for a car.
Together, that's enough to cover a year of tuition for 160 students at the college, which has nine campuses and serves more than 63,000 students each year.
Breaking down the dollars for each request is a story in itself.
175 days of sick leave
St. Petersburg College pays its departing employees for unused sick time three different ways.
Employees hired before July 1, 1995, can earn up to 90 days of pay. Those hired after July 1, 1995 receive one-fourth of their sick leave, up to 60 days of extra pay.
Then there's a special group of "executive" employees, which includes Kuttler. They are paid for all of their unused sick time prior to July 1, 2001. There are 30 college employees that make up the "executive" class; 19 were hired before July 1, 2001.
According to board of trustees attorney Joe Lang, Kuttler has 1,402 unused sick hours from before 2001, or about 175 days.
The college is obligated to pay Kuttler for them, attorneys say.
It doesn't matter that the sick time Kuttler is being paid for is at least eight, and conceivably 40, years old. The Times asked for a breakdown of Kuttler's unused sick time but did not receive it. Trustees Deveron Gibbons and Ken Burke also say they have requested sick leave details without success.
What's more, the board must compensate Kuttler for the unused time at his current rate, $193.57 an hour. The terms are detailed in Kuttler's contract.
Kuttler, whose current contract expires June 30, 2011, will earn about $385,000 in total college compensation in 2009. He's paid almost $80,000 on top of that by the St. Petersburg College Foundation, records show.
This July, Kuttler announced he was retiring early.
Burke faults trustees for the generous contract terms.
"We've done a terrible job, I'll be honest with you," said Burke, a St. Petersburg College graduate. "We've dealt in good faith, and I think we've not performed our role well in this regard."
Vacation within norms
All college employees are entitled to be paid for 500 hours of unused vacation time. Kuttler can be paid for up to 700 hours.
The difference is irrelevant. Kuttler is asking to be paid a little over 336 hours. The vacation payout actually would increase if Kuttler made his retirement date Jan. 1, 2010, instead of Dec. 31, 2009, since he'd be able to collect his 2010 unused vacation as well.
Kuttler's contract also puts the college on the hook for $30,000 for a car. Kuttler is asking for the money.
Gibbons questions the request. The original contract allowed $8,000 a year for a car, Gibbons said. But that amount was increased to $10,000 a year as an incentive for Kuttler to stay until 2011. "I'm not clear on why he should get the extra incentive money to stay, if he's leaving," Gibbons said.
Sabbaticals not used
Kuttler says he's never taken a sabbatical in his 43 years as a college employee. But he was entitled to.
In his original request, Kuttler asked to be paid $185,788 for an unused sabbatical.
Kuttler says now he isn't demanding the full amount, necessarily. Rather, he's pointing out that the sabbatical provision in his contract has value.
He notes the value of another provision in his contract, which allows him to remain a tenured professor at the college. Under those terms, he would be paid at his presidential salary through June 2011, after which his contract could be renegotiated. He says he will relinquish his tenure as part of the contract settlement.
Kuttler also contends that he has saved the college more than $1 million in compensation costs, after accounting for the money he says he's owed.
Attributing value to Kuttler's unused sabbatical is up for debate, trustees say.
It has no value at Hillsborough Community College, for instance, where president Gwendolyn W. Stephenson is retiring next year.
Ashley Carr, an HCC spokeswoman, said Stephenson will not be paid for unused sabbatical leave. She also will not be paid for unused sick time.
Lars Hafner, the president of the State College of Florida in Bradenton, has no sabbatical provision in his contract, and could be paid for up to 60 days of unused sick time.
The president of Miami Dade College, Eduardo Padron, will receive a one-year paid sabbatical when he retires, according to the school. But that benefit is detailed in Padron's contract. Kuttler has no such provision.
Payouts for comp days
By all accounts, Kuttler is a tireless worker and a meticulous record keeper.
Since July 2007, Kuttler says he has worked an extra 820 hours on various college projects. School officials provided the Times a log of the extra hours Kuttler's office keeps. The log lists a date, the hours extra worked, and a description like "Desk work/meetings/phones."
Kuttler considers travel time and "community events" as extra work. On May 31, 2008, he said he worked three hours while attending a wedding.
The college's trustees decided to give Kuttler 18 days off each year — called flex days — intended to make up for 12-hour days and weekend work. Kuttler is asking the college to pay him for 85 of those unused days.
Burke balks at the request.
"I think when you're the president of the college, with the compensation package he's at, I don't think anyone expects that he works just 40 hours a week," Burke said.
Burke said Monday that he asked the state Division of Florida Colleges to audit Kuttler's contract request but was told the state would not.
Both Burke and Gibbons say they want to create new contract policies as trustees prepare to hire Kuttler's successor.
"Dr. Kuttler's done a wonderful job at the college, but when anybody leaves, they should be entitled to the same things," Gibbons said. "Maybe some things could be different for the president. But it shouldn't be that much different."
Times staff writer Meg Laughlin contributed to this report.