September 23, 2014

Medina
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Medina school board OKs Superintendent Randy Stepp’s contract, including $83,000 signing bonus

By Kiera Manion-Fischer and Loren Genson

MEDINA — The union representing Medina city school teachers is protesting Superintendent Randy Stepp’s new contract, charging the school misrepresented the new pact as an “amendment” to his old contract on the agenda of the Jan. 7 meeting where it was approved.

John Leatherman, president of the Medina City Teachers’ Association, said he was “dumbfounded, astonished, surprised and shocked” after learning about the new contract, which provides annual compensation of at least $186,000 in wages, bonuses, allowance and other fringe benefits.

The contract also calls for a signing bonus of $83,000 designed to ensure Stepp doesn’t take another job.

Leatherman said he learned about Stepp’s contract Feb. 21, about four hours after the teachers’ union had reached a tentative agreement with the board for a new contract. He said the board didn’t inform him about Stepp’s contract. He received a tip.

“It was not, to use their favorite word, ‘transparent,’ ” he said.

Leatherman said the timing of Stepp’s contract could jeopardize the agreement, which will be presented to the teachers Thursday, followed by a vote in the next three days.

The teachers have been without a contract since June 2012.

“I’m concerned about the status of this tentative agreement,” he said. “It’s not lucrative in any way, shape or form for the teachers. We really kept the needs of the community in mind when we made this tentative agreement.”

Leatherman declined to reveal details of the tentative agreement. But another source said the pact calls for no wage increase except for seniority “step” increases.

School board President Charles Freeman said he could not explain why the agenda and minutes for the Jan. 7 work session shows the board approving unanimously “the amendment to the superintendent’s administrative contract.”

“It was meant to be a new contract,” Charles Freeman said. “My memory was that we were voting on his next contract.”

Asked why the board delayed issuing a news release announcing Stepp’s new contract until Friday — after rumors began circulating, Freeman said, “I don’t know.”

Leatherman said Stepp’s new contract could hurt the chances of passage of the 5.9-mill levy on the May ballot.

He said Stepp was not leading by example by accepting the contract, while asking teachers to make sacrifices.

“Through negotiations, through board meetings, our superintendent has said, ‘We need our teachers to make sacrifices,’” Leatherman said.

Determining exactly what Stepp will be paid each year is difficult because both his old and new contracts have provisions that allow him to determine the value of some of the fringe benefits.

For example, the new contract calls for 35 vacation days but permits him to work up to 20 of those vacation days and be paid at a per diem rate estimated at least $700.

An idea of how much more Stepp can earn above his base salary of $134,470 is seen in his federal W-2 form, which states he was paid a total of $198,465.52 last calendar year, according to district records.

In announcing Stepp’s contract, the news release said the board has “trust and confidence that Dr. Stepp is the right person to lead the district through these times of change.”

According to the release, the board “reviewed contracts from private industry and both in and out-of-state superintendent contracts to structure Dr. Stepp’s contract.”

Stepp, 47, who has worked for the district since 1997 and been superintendent since 2006, said he deserves the new contract because it is competitive with the private sector.

He said he passed up job opportunities that could have earned him an additional $50,000 a year.

“If you were the CEO of an organization that had 750 employees, what do you think would be the going salary?” he asked.

Stepp said he made it clear to the board that he had other job options.

“There are a number of school districts that have openings around Ohio,” he said. “School districts are finding it difficult to find qualified people to work in their district.”

Stepp said his doctorate, which he earned in 2010, and master’s in business administration are qualifications that warrant additional pay when negotiating the terms of a new contract.

“The board wanted, and the community wanted someone with a focus on business as much as education, and that’s what I bring,” he said.

Stepp’s comments came in an interview following a more than three-hour-long school board work session on Monday night.

The district discussed options for what to do if a 5.9 mill levy on the May ballot fails. The levy will cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $181 a year and bring in about $6.9 million annually.

If the levy fails, the board said they would move forward with plan to shorten the school day to 5½ hours for middle school and high school students and five hours for elementary school students.

The board also took the first step toward putting a levy on the August ballot, which would be withdrawn if the levy passes in May.

Five levies have failed since 2008.

Contact reporter Kiera Manion-Fischer at (330) 721-4049 or kfischer@medina-gazette.com. Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.