MEDINA — A contrite Superintendent Randy Stepp apologized at a public forum Friday night in the face of a torrent of questions about an $83,000 bonus included in his contract with the Medina Board of Education.
Stepp announced Thursday that he would forgo the bonus, which was aimed at keeping him from accepting a job with another district.
He said he made the decision a day earlier — at a board meeting attended by 150 parents and students.
“I truly was hurt the other day, on Wednesday, when I saw our students in the room. At that point I realized that I screwed up,” Stepp said.
Stepp’s statement was greeted by enthusiastic applause from the 400 people packed in the Medina Performing Arts Center.
“The board did not ask me to give back that $83,000,” he said. “That was my choice. I offered it. I volunteered.”
Stepp said he will work out a plan with the district’s payroll office to begin deducting money from his biweekly pay until the $83,000 bonus is deducted.
He backed off an earlier defense of his contract in which he compared himself to the CEO of a company with more than 700 employees.
“What I think happened over the course of the last few years, I became so focused on finance and return on investment that I started to apply that same thing to my contract,” Stepp said. “What I’ve learned is that — while I do get a ton of pressure from all angles of this community to run this place like a business and I’m trying my best — what I’ve learned is there are certain places you can run like a business and there are certain places where you cannot.”
Some parents said they accepted the apology as genuine.
“He seemed very heartfelt when he said he lost his focus,” said Robert Grubbs, a Medina parent. “I’m not quite as mad at the superintendent as I am at the school board.”
Another parent echoed that theme during the forum.
“I’m not angry you want more money, we all want more money,” she told Stepp. “What I’m angry about is that somewhere, somebody thought that was OK.”
School board President Charles Freeman said he had second thoughts about the bonus as he read it on the front page of Tuesday’s Gazette.
“I took The Gazette … I looked at my wife and I said, “This $83,000 piece needs to be re-thought,” he told the audience. “When I campaigned (for my board seat), I met a lot of people — they don’t have that kind of money.”
Freeman indicated the contract was the subject of Wednesday’s board meeting, which was closed to the public.
“We called for an executive session to discuss personnel matters,” Freeman said. “You can guess what was discussed for three-plus hours.”
Not everyone backed away from their support of the bonus.
Board member Susan Vlcek said the bonus was approved in an effort to keep Stepp in the district.
“I believe we made an investment in a leader — a great leader,” Vlcek said.
Board member Bill Grenfell said they wanted to keep Stepp, not only for the job he was doing but because the district already had invested $244,037 in Stepp’s education.
“I did it to protect our investment in Dr. Stepp,” Grenfell said. “I was concerned about going into a next cycle of levies and failures … I thought it needed his leadership and his direction.”
At the meeting, students also stepped up to the microphone. Some criticized Stepp and the board. But others implored parents to support the district’s 5.9-mill levy on the May ballot.
Medina junior Dinah Sammon, 16, asked the board to justify Stepp’s $244,037 in education expenses.
Stepp told her he was told by the board to obtain a doctorate and a master’s of business administration.
“Why couldn’t you fund it yourself?” Sammon asked.
“I guess I could have,” he answered.
Cole Stafford, an eighth-grader, said he was disappointed with the board and Stepp, but urged a yes vote on the levy in May.
“Please don’t let your opinion get in the way of our education,” he said.
Following the meeting, Sara Lee, a parent with two children in the school district, said she would support the levy, but remained distrustful of the school board.
“I didn’t really hear them apologize,” she said. “I don’t feel like I have a choice but to support the levy, but I can understand some people can’t.”
Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or firstname.lastname@example.org.