School board trustee, ex-Gwinn super clash

GWINN – During a contentious meeting of the Gwinn Area Community Schools Board of Education Tuesday night, Trustee Bill Nordeen made claims that former Gwinn Superintendent Mike Maino’s former contract was “quasi-illegal.”

The board met in a special session to decide who could fill outgoing Superintendent Kim Tufnell’s position, which will be vacated once her resignation takes effect June 30.

The audience gathered inside the Gwinn High School Library reacted by yelling, jeering and laughing at comments made by the board, including controversial comments made by Nordeen about Maino.

“What he does is quasi-illegal and I’ll say that on the record,” Nordeen said, referring to Maino’s 2011 third party contract with the district, which he had through Portland-based Professional Contract Management Inc.

Part of his salary was paid through that contract, while the rest was paid through a second contract between him and the district. Both contracts began July 1, 2011 and were in effect until he left the district Dec. 31, 2011.

According to Nordeen, that set-up was meant to circumvent a state law that required any retired public school official who returns to work and makes 30 percent or more of their former wage from discontinuing to collect retirement benefits.

“He wasn’t really being employed by the board,” Nordeen said. “He was being employed by a contractor who was then contracted to the board, (and) – as far as I’m concerned in the law – when you use a vehicle like that to skirt the law, it’s not a good thing.”

According to Board President Gloria Bigelow, Nordeen’s claims are unfounded.

When Maino was hired in 2008, the state had established “critical shortage areas” which allowed people in certain high-demand professions in public education to return to work from retirement and still collect their full retirement benefit along with a full paycheck.

Bigelow said one of those critical positions in 2008 was superintendent.

“We did nothing illegal in regards to this,” she said.

Nordeen said he spoke with an attorney in the state attorney general’s office and with a representative from the governor’s office three years ago about Maino’s contracts. Both offices declined to become involved, Nordeen said.

“Nobody denied that it’s probably not within the letter of the law, but nobody wants to fool around with the schools because it’s such a big problem,” Nordeen said Wednesday, echoing similar comments he made Tuesday, when he said “they won’t say that it’s legal, because it really isn’t, but they won’t pursue it either.”

Trustee Ron Libey said Tuesday the attorney general likely didn’t want to pursue it because “it saves the school district $40-$50,000 a year.”

“So, you’re right, they don’t want to inhibit a school from trying to get their budget closer to balanced,” Libey said.

The contract arrangement was able to save the district money because the district did not have to pay benefits – such as health care premiums – during Maino’s second stint as Gwinn superintendent.

Maino said Wednesday he has “no response” to the statements made by Nordeen during Tuesday’s meeting.

“I have no response to Mr. Nordeen,” Maino said. “Mr. Nordeen is known far and wide for saying a lot of things he knows nothing about … He just has no idea what he’s talking about.”

Maino also said he was not interested in being GACS next superintendent.

“I’m retired,” Maino said. “I never intended to go back to work or anything else. I’m not in any way interested in applying.”

The first outburst of the evening came from the crowd when Bigelow called for a motion to hire Maino as the district’s interim superintendent.

Other candidates were mentioned as well, namely Gilbert Elementary School Principal Dan Barry and Ishpeming Public Schools Superintendent Steve Piereson, both of whom drew rounds of applause from the audience.

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.