Gwinn superintendent’s final payout generates debate

GWINN – In a debate that quickly escalated, the Gwinn Area Community Schools Board of Education discussed Monday the final paychecks of the district’s current superintendent, which include $17,000 on top of regular pay for vacation, personal and sick days not yet used.

In May, Superintendent Kim Tufnell tendered her letter of resignation, effective June 30, which the board accepted.

Trustee Bill Nordeen took issue with how Tufnell’s final payout was handled, saying she hasn’t worked fully in her capacity as superintendent since the end of May and should not receive an additional $17,000.

“She left in May and she said that she terminated her employment as of June 30, so what I assumed was that during the month of June, when she hasn’t been here, she was using vacation days, so I’m hoping she didn’t get paid for the month of June, and in addition to that get paid for her vacation days,” Nordeen said.

Board President Gloria Bigelow said the district was paying Tufnell according to what was written in her letter of resignation, which the board had previously voted to approve.

Treasurer Ron Lauren called it “double-dipping” and said they shouldn’t pay Tufnell “twice.” Lauren said the vacation days should have been used up during this month, when Tufnell was not working in the district.

“How can you pay someone that was supposed to work for a month and then give them vacation on top of it?” Lauren said. “It’s ludicrous.”

Board President Gloria Bigelow told the board Tufnell was working “under hostile conditions,” and that was why she left, sparking a response from other board members and an outburst from the crowd gathered inside the Gwinn High School library.

“Wow,” Lauren said. “That’s all I can say, is wow.”

The board’s newest member, Joe Boogren, who was appointed to fill Vice President Ruth Spade’s seat last week following her death earlier this month, said the board should not describe Tufnell’s work environment as hostile.

“I think it’s important that we do not characterize her departure as under duress in any way, shape or form,” Boogren said. “When you make $100,000 a year and you have a bad day, you don’t take your ball and run home.”

Trustee Ron Libey categorized the month of June as administrative leave with pay for Tufnell. Libey said that was how he interpreted her letter of resignation, which specified how many leave days Tufnell had left at the beginning of June and was expecting to be paid for.

Nordeen said it may be illegal to pay Tufnell any administrative leave with pay, saying Tufnell could only receive that if the full board voted to approve it during a public meeting, which he contended it did not.

Libey and Bigelow said accepting the letter of resignation was the vote.

Following the debate – which included several outbursts from the crowd as well as rounds of applause based on comments made by board members – and a presentation by Business Manager Amy Luoma, the board voted 5-2 to approve a 2012-2013 budget amendment which included the payout to Tufnell.

Nordeen and Lauren cast the lone dissenting votes.

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is jstark@miningjournal. net