April 20, 2014

Partly sunny

Medina BOE leaves packed meeting without addressing questions

MEDINA — More than 150 parents, teachers and students showed up at Medina High School on Wednesday night for a special meeting of the Medina Board of Education.

Many said they had questions about the new contract for Superintendent Randy Stepp, approved by the board in January.

Medina High School students protest before a special school board meeting Wednesday evening. Meeting attendees were outraged about a new contract for Superintendent Randy Stepp that included an $83,000 signing bonus. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY KIERA MANION-FISCHER)

The contract provides at least $186,000 in wages, bonus, allowance and other fringe benefits, along with a signing bonus of $83,000.

But instead of answers, they were given index cards and asked to submit questions in writing that would be addressed on the board’s website and discussed at a public forum on Friday.

The board then adjourned to a closed, executive session to discuss contract negotiations that lasted more than three hours.

They never returned to the high school auditorium. A janitor told a handful of reporters and residents who remained in the auditorium that the board had left.
The board’s failure to return may have violated Ohio’s Sunshine Law.

According to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s handbook on open meetings in Ohio, “a public body may only hold an executive session at a regular or special meeting, and a meeting that includes an executive session must always begin and end in an open session.”

When asked about the failure to return to an open session, board President Charles Freeman apologized.

“You’re probably right and I’m sorry,” he said when reached by phone Wednesday night. “We had a productive meeting and we put a lot on the table and you will have a press release in the morning.”

The board said Friday’s public forum would be 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Medina Performing Arts Center, next to the high school.

Several parents and students said they were furious at the delay.

“I canceled meetings with my clients to be here,” shouted one parent.

Another woman, Linda Duke, aired her grievances out loud as the board exited the stage.

“I make $25,000 a year, I voted for the levies, I make sacrifices. Where’s your sacrifice?” she asked.

In an interview following the meeting, Duke said she is the sole wage-earner for her family and must come up with extra money to allow her son to participate in football and wrestling through the school’s “pay-to-play” athletics program.

She said she can’t support the May levy.

“I don’t know how a levy is ever going to pass again,” she said.

Duke’s son, James, 18, a senior at Medina High, said he voted for the last levy, but was waiting to see how the board reacts to the controversy over Stepp’s contract before voting for the next one.

“I wish they would have at least given us a statement,” he said. “We’ll still hear what they have to say on Friday. At the end of the day, it’s not about the board of education. It’s about the students.”

The school board has discussed shortening the school day if the levy fails in May. That threat resonated with students who already have felt the cuts to extracurricular and course offerings.

In a peaceful demonstration outside, students held signs that said “Save our schools” and “We love our teachers.” Their signs were not permitted in the building.

Medina senior Matt Brubaker, 17, said his mother supported his sign protest.

“My little brother is going to be a freshman next year,” he said. “I want him to have the same education I had.”

Laura Nielsen, who has seven students in the district ranging from a kindergartner to a senior at Medina High, said she’s already felt the impact of cuts.

“The experience my senior got is significantly better than what my little ones are getting,” Nielsen said. “I’m not happy with the way things have been done lately but I’ve always voted for the levy.”

Nielsen said the school board missed an opportunity to open a dialogue with parents.

“If they wanted to calm the flames, they didn’t. They threw gasoline on the fire,” she said.

Parents said they were willing to fill out index cards to ask their questions.

One parent, Emily Varner, 33, of Medina, said she asked whether it is possible for Stepp’s contract to be rescinded.

“This is a pretty dramatic example of failed leadership and the ability to lead by example,” she said.

Kara Hohn, a mother of two students, said she hoped to see an answer on the school’s website within 24 hours, as the school board promised.

“I’m just wondering why he thinks he deserves an $83,000 signing bonus … and all the teachers have taken a pay freeze,” Hohn said.

Teachers, who have been without a contract since June 2012, were disappointed that the board put off public debate Wednesday.

Scott Quade, an Advanced Placement English teacher said he was concerned voters would take their disappointment in the school board out on students.

“I think the board’s recent actions regarding (Stepp’s) contract will be the end of the levy,” Quade said. “I would beg the community to not let that decision negatively impact students.”

Quade also bemoaned cuts to the school curriculum. He said his daughter’s school in another district has a choice of five languages in seventh grade.

“We used to have five languages, now we have two,” he said.

Quade said he worries another failed levy would mean more teacher layoffs and cuts to courses.

“If we don’t pass the levy, the board won’t feel it, the superintendent won’t feel it, our students will feel it,” Quade said.

Reporters Nick Glunt and Kiera Manion-Fischer contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.

  • Richard Leiby

    VOTE NO ON LEVY. No only did they violate the sunshine law by not returning but the board did not give the proper amount of notice time in the proper manner as well. This needs to be follower up on. This just shows that the corrupt board and Stepp believe that they are above the the laws and have to answer to no one. Well voters time is now to show them they answer to us the voters by VOTING NO ON THE LEVY and by recalling the total board. Time to take back control of the school. Enough is enough. The board thinks they don’t need to talk to the public. Well time to show them who the BOSS really is. VOTE NO ON LEVY and RECALL EVERYONE OF THEM NOW!!!!

  • Frustrated in Medina

    I have lived in this town for 50 yrs. I remember when Heritage Elem. was built along with the High School and everything since. I don’t remember when the “we need more money, so hand it over” policy of the school board started, but I assume around the same time. This was probably about the same time that the mistrust started. Over the years, we as tax payers, have passed levies and gone along with the Boards wishes for the schools system. Sure, there where a few mishaps along the way, but everyone wanted the same thing for our kids….A good Education. Fast forward to today. What has happened to us as a city? This school board reminds me of Congress…back room deals that they hope will not come out till later, misleading the public as to the actual financial positions of this system, expecting us to pay and pay for their mistakes, expecting us to just sit back and say nothing about this contract extension for Dr. Stepp and by the way….pass the levy or else. nn Either pass it or we will shorten the day. They know exactly what they are doing. I’m sure they know how many families they will be putting in a bind since both parents have to work these days. When my daughter was in school here, it was the busing button. We won’t bus anymore…can’t afford it. But we can give Dr. Stepp a 83k signing bonus. We will have to lay off teachers….but we are going to build two more Elementary schools we can’t afford to run. And the list goes on. Stop trying to strong arm us and learn to live within your means. We, the residence of this city, have to do it everyday. There is only so much money to go around and I wish you would not blow it on ridiculous contracts. The last time I checked, Dr. Stepp was not in the classroom….the TEACHERS are. Maybe we should be more concerned with them.

  • madparent

    Fire them all