‘Shameful and wrong’
To the Editor:
On Thursday, May 16, I was horrified and saddened to witness the treatment toward long-time school employee, Marsha Gutierrez by School Committee Chair, Bill Padien, and lawyer Denise Myers, as they tried to strip benefits from Mrs. Gutierrez’s retirement package.
More than 15 years ago, then-Superintendent Tom Foley recommended that a retirement benefit package be added to Marsha’s contract. He also suggested changing the retirement severance formula for unused sick days to reflect Marsha’s longer employment year compared to the teaching staff. He recognized the incredible asset Marsha was. He continued the tradition of the superintendents before, and those after him, to write glowing evaluations referencing her professionalism, dedication, proficiency, and work ethic.
Marsha’s contract was approved by the School Committee and has been approved each time it has been renewed. Five years ago Superintendent Bob Hicks renegotiated the medical benefit package to reflect changes being made in the state to reduce a town’s fiscal commitment. Instead of a full medical package Marsha would receive the recommended Plan 65, a supplement to Medicare, with a cost reduction to the school from the full medical benefit.
Marsha’s plan had been to retire last year. When she learned that Supt. Judy Lundsten was also leaving, she was concerned. If the incoming superintendent was familiar with the island she would retire but someone new to Block Island would need an experienced assistant and she would put her retirement off for one more year.
Bill Padien has been on the School Committee more than 20 years. During this time he has reviewed all of Marsha’s evaluations and has approved all of her contract renewals. It is unbelievable, that now as Marsha gets ready to retire after 36-plus years of service to the school, he decides to be “fiscally responsible” and strip benefits that he feels are not deserved.
A School Committee lawyer takes direction from the Committee as a whole or from a superintendent who has been instructed by the School Committee to pursue certain actions. To my knowledge there are no motions in the School Committee meeting minutes from last year or this year asking, or giving permission for the lawyer, Denise Myers, to try to change Marsha’s contract. Are Denise Meyers and Bill Padien working on their own? Is that legal?
What message does this attempt to strip the benefits from a long time employee give to the rest of the town workers? What cost to the town if this moves on to Superior Court? What is going on is shameful and wrong.
To the Editor:
As the room cleared out after a special New Shoreham School Committee meeting to discuss the contract of Marsha Gutierrez, Administrative Assistant to the Superintendent, faces were filled with anger and hearts became heavy. A woman who has been the glue of the Block Island School community for 36.5 years has a contract that is about to expire and the specifics of it are under intense scrutiny. The School Committee is not living up to a commitment they have made to her as she prepares to retire under a contract that she understood to be true and valid.
We could not help but be compelled by the arguments made by attorney Mary Ann Carroll on behalf of Mrs. Gutierrez. Carroll pointedly stated that a valid contract does not need to be diminished (to reduce or to change the terms of the contract) but rather needs to be upheld. The final point made by attorney Carroll was that this dispute could potentially become a large expenditure to the school, the town, and the community. This would be the case if the school committee doesn’t uphold the terms of the valid contract.
Because she is humble, Marsha’s duties and her professional execution of them far exceed anything that she has ever spoken about and to try to list them all would be a massive undertaking and likely to be incomplete. What the greater Block Island community should know is that, in her time serving this school, she has been the embodiment of integrity and privity and to deny her anything but the contract she is even now working under is something this group would encourage the school committee to avoid, both morally and financially.
Join us in strong support at the school committee meeting to recognize the valid contract of Marsha Gutierrez. The meeting will be on Tuesday, May 28 at 7 p.m. at the school.
The faculty and staff at the Block Island School
To the Editor:
As many of you know, I have been teaching in the Block Island community for 42 years. Sometimes that makes me feel ancient, but mostly it makes me feel wise.
For 27 of those years, I have had the privilege to be professionally associated with Marsha Guttierrez. I jokingly refer to her as Marsha “glue-t-errez” because she has been the one, singular constant that has held our school together for more than three decades.
She has seen us through a parade of administrators and staff members. She has seen us through building renovations. And she has seen us through happy times of great accomplishments and sad times of heartbreaking loss.
Marsha maintains the highest level of professionalism. Two of the cornerstones of her tenure have been her unfailing respect of confidentiality and her remarkable composure during challenging times. She is our moral compass; that is a testament to her level of professional commitment to our school community. There is no one in this room who is more deserving of our collective respect and appreciation.
Throughout it all, Marsha has been loyal, steadfast and true.
To the Editor:
Thank you, NAMI-Block Island!
Last weekend, I had the privilege of attending the Spring conference hosted by the Block Island Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Health. The focus of the event was to provide a forum for exploring the emotional health and psychological well-being of our children and teens. It was a tremendously worthwhile event, as experts from the fields of medicine, counseling, emergency services and other community agencies came together to share information, ideas and insights. As a newer member of our island community, I was deeply moved by the commitment to the pursuit of wholeness that was clearly demonstrated here.
Thank you, NAMI, for all that you have already done, and for your continued commitment to future plans for the health and wellness of our children and families, and for looking to the special needs of the challenged and marginalized among us.
Pastor Peter Preiser