October 25, 2014

Medina
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Fact check: Medina board responds to questions

At Wednesday’s stormy meeting of the Medina Board of Education, audience members were given index cards and asked to submit written questions. The board promised to address at least some of the questions within 24 hours on the district’s website, www.medinacityschooldistrict.org.

As of 5 p.m. Friday, 13 questions had been posted.

The Gazette researched the answers and rated each for accuracy and completeness:

Q: Why did Dr. Stepp agree to voluntarily forgo his longevity incentive and merit raises?

A: We heard the community’s concerns about Superintendent Stepp’s contract and after serious discussion in executive session, Dr. Stepp volunteered to forgo the $83,000 longevity incentive and also to forgo merit raises, which could total as much as $36,000 annually during the term of his contract.

Gazette: Accurate but incomplete. Stepp was paid the $83,000 bonus in January when the contract was approved. But it is not clear what “forgo” means. In a story in Friday’s Gazette, board member Susan Vlcek said it hasn’t been determined whether Stepp will return the $83,000 or give up a number of banked sick days equivalent in value to the bonus. At Friday’s public forum, Stepp said he would repay the bonus out of his paycheck.

Q: Did the School Board force Dr. Stepp to forgo his longevity incentive and merit raises?

A: No, this was a voluntary action on Dr. Stepp’s part.

Gazette: This answer can’t be substantiated because Ohio’s Sunshine Law doesn’t require minutes to be kept at executive sessions, which are closed to the public.

Q: How did the Board’s actions in January follow the Sunshine Law regarding the transparency?

A: The Sunshine Law allows districts to conduct personnel contract discussions in executive session.

Gazette: This answer is accurate but the question doesn’t address the key issue of “transparency.” Critics, including the union representing the teachers, have charged the board failed to adequately publicize the Jan. 7 “work session” meeting where Stepp’s contract was approved unanimously. Both the agenda, which by law must be publicized in advance, and the minutes of the meeting indicate the board was considering an “amendment to the Superintendent’s contract” and not a new contract. The teachers union also charges it should have been given a copy of the new contract.

Q: What is the justification to spend this kind of money on a superintendent when the money could have been spent on security in our schools?

A: Student safety is paramount in our district and a large concentration of our safety expenditures come from sales tax funds; the district has an ongoing plan to address safety and security for students and staff.

Gazette: The answer doesn’t address the question.

Q: Tell me about the district covering the costs of the superintendent’s education reimbursement.

A: We place great importance on advanced learning for all of our educational professionals. We believe it is important to invest in professional development for all of our educational leaders so that we can provide high quality education for our students. Dr. Stepp has an outstanding educational background. His education costs average out to $34,862 per year for the past seven years.

Gazette: Accurate, but incomplete. When multiplied out, the board’s statement of the cost of Stepp’s educational costs paid by the district agrees with the $244,037 figure cited by the teachers union in a “no confidence, no trust” resolution voted by the members Thursday. But the board’s answer could provide more. The bulk of the money — $172,011 — went out in a single check to the U.S. Department of Education, dated Jan. 9, 2012, as repayment for student loans. The remainder went to Case Western Reserve University for courses he took after 2010. Stepp received his doctorate from Ashland University in 2010. He also has an MBA.

Q: How many other staff were able to have their educational costs covered?

A: 81.3% of the teachers in the Medina City Schools have a Master’s degree. Teachers are able to increase their salary as they obtain additional education. A teacher who obtains a master’s degree and then works for 30 years will realize additional income of over $284,000 during their career. Administrators are able to receive tuition reimbursement up to $8,000 while employed with the district. These practices are in line with what other districts in the State are doing.

Gazette: Again, the answer could be more complete. How many administrators actually received tuition reimbursement and for how much? The answer only states the maximum amount.

Q: Your article in the Gazette stated that the school day will be shortened to 5ᄑ hours at the middle schools and high school and 5 hours at the elementary schools, does this mean you are eliminating art, music, and PE at elementary levels and middle school and high school?

A: The state minimum school day at elementary school is 5 hours and 5ᄑ hours at middle and high school. The Gazette article referred to the Board’s March work session where they did discuss moving to a state minimum school day should the levy fail.

Gazette: Accurate as far as it goes. But the board doesn’t answer the question about the possible elimination of art, music and physical education classes.

Q: Why do you feel it necessary to renew a $1.8 million … contract when you are trying to pass a levy?

A: We want strong consistent leadership as we face the prospect of a levy. Dr. Stepp’s current base salary is $134,700.

Gazette: No source is cited for the $1.8 million figure. It may be a mistake on the part of the questioner. The teachers union has estimated the total value of Stepp’s contract at $1.2 million. The board’s answer is at best incomplete because Stepp’s base salary is far from his full compensation. The Gazette has estimated he will receive a minimum of $186,000 a year in salary, allowances and other fringe benefits — not counting his signing bonus.

Q: Please explain why Dr. Stepp’s contract was revised and agreed upon before the teacher contracts?

A: It is a typical practice of superintendents to begin negotiating their contract well prior to its expiration. The timing has nothing to do with the teachers contract.

Gazette: It’s true talks usually begin well before contracts expire. But the board doesn’t say when the negotiations with Stepp started. According to board records, Stepp’s new five-year contract was approved on Jan. 7 — a year and a half before the old contract expired, on July 31, 2014.

Q: How many months of busing would $83,000 cover?

A: 4.1 days.

Gazette: The answer could be clearer. The district stopped busing for high school students several years ago. Does the estimate of 4.1 days — which works out to be about $20,250 for each day — refer to the cost of busing or how much it would cost to restore busing for high-schoolers?

Q: There was a comment that the Board thought they were voting on Stepp’s next contract, how did they not know what they were voting on?

A: Dr. Stepp and the Board went into executive session at the January 7, 2013, meeting to discuss his contract terms and approved his contract after leaving executive session. The Board knew what they were voting on.

Gazette: Again, the key question asked by critics is whether the public knew what the board was voting on.

Q: How can the superintendent ask his students, staff, and teachers to make sacrifices while he accepts a raise and a bonus?

A: The Board felt the compensation offered to Dr. Stepp was appropriate given the competitive market in school leadership. Dr. Stepp has volunteered to forgo his longevity incentive and merit pay incentive.

Gazette: Again, the answer fails to explain what “forgo” means: Will Stepp return the $83,000 bonus or give up an equivalent number of his accumulated sick days? The answer should say if that hasn’t been determined yet.

Q: Are you cutting the show choir and other co-curriculars and extra-curriculars?

A: At this time, there is no plan to further reduce any of the co-curricular or extra-curricular opportunities for our students.

Gazette: Accurate and complete.