The St. Petersburg College board of trustees acted prudently Tuesday by approving a more reasonable retirement package for former president Carl Kuttler. A labor employment firm's analysis confirmed the folly of rushing to lavishly reward Kuttler as some trustees initially sought. Now this messy distraction is behind the college, and the trustees can focus on selecting a new president.
Kuttler, who retired at the end of 2009 after more than 30 years as SPC president, initially sought an outlandish $684,000 retirement package. Among the more dubious claims were more than $131,000 for flex time he never took and more than $185,000 for never taking a sabbatical he was allowed. It was not a graceful way to end a career filled with significant accomplishments that dramatically expanded the college's size and vision.
Just as indefensible as Kuttler's initial demands was the rush to pay him off by college trustees Evelyn Bilirakis and Richard Johnston and board attorney Joe Lang. With little documentation, Lang recommended in December paying Kuttler $500,000 in a quick deal fortunately set aside by trustees Terry Brett, Ken Burke and Deveron Gibbons. Now the reluctance of those trustees to go along to get along is saving the college a ton of money.
The deal approved Tuesday will pay Kuttler $339,500 — about half of what he originally sought and about $160,000 less than the December quickie. It is the maximum that the labor employment firm recommended and includes extra salary. The firm rejected Kuttler's claim for money for a car and found his claim for unpaid sick leave was far higher than state law allows.
The past few months have not put St. Petersburg College in the best light. Kuttler left a permanent stain on his considerable legacy, and the trustees narrowly avoided an indefensible payout. The search committee for a new president mishandled the selection of finalists and left the trustees with no easy remedy.
Tuesday's unanimous approval of a defensible retirement package for Kuttler was a step in the right direction, and the board still has a qualified list of finalists to become the next president. It should act with as much deliberate care in selecting new leadership for the college as it finally did in severing ties with the old.