July 24, 2016

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Medina School Board could face legal action

Read the documents:
• Agenda for Jan. 7 work session
• Minutes for Jan. 7 work session
• Revised minutes for Jan. 7 work session
• New superintendent contract approved Jan. 7

Loren Genson and David Knox

MEDINA — The first hint that Medina Schools Superintendent Randy Stepp had won a new contract didn’t come until more than two weeks after the school board approved the pact at a Jan. 7 work session.

A review of the public record by The Gazette found no mention of Stepp’s contract either in the agenda that accompanied the advance notice of the work session or in the minutes provided to the union representing the district’s 400 teachers.

That failure opens the possibility of a legal challenge from the union to the contract that called for Stepp to receive an $83,000 bonus on top of annual compensation of at least $186,000 in wages, allowances and other fringe benefits.

It wasn’t until after the school board’s Jan. 22 regular meeting that the minutes were revised to include the board’s unanimous approval of an “amendment to the Superintendent’s administrative contract.”

But what the board approved was not an amendment — it was a new five-year contract.

The school board’s first public acknowledgement Stepp had a new contract came in a news release, issued March 1 — after rumors of the contract already had begun circulating.

Publication of the provisions of the contract was met by intense criticism, including creation of a “Medina City Schools Outrage” Facebook page.

The opposition increased after the union membership voted “no confidence” in Stepp and the board, citing both Stepp’s contract and the fact that the district had spent nearly a quarter-million dollars for his education, including $172,011 in federal college loans paid off in January 2012.

The furor climaxed at a four-hour public forum March 8, where Stepp apologized to the 400 parents, students and others in the audience, and said he would give back the $83,000 bonus and forgo as much as $36,000 in raises.

But the school board so far has not explained why the paperwork for the Jan. 7 work session did not mention that a new contract for Stepp was on the table.

John Leatherman, president of the Medina City Teachers Association, said the failure to notify the union about Stepp’s contract violated the district’s contract with the teachers.

That pact requires that three members of the union are to be provided with agendas and minutes of all board meetings, including “all other documents that Board members receive, that are distributed to Board members at official meetings of the Board as soon as possible after such meetings.”

Leatherman said the school board not only failed to provide adequate notification of the Jan. 7 work session, but also provided him incomplete minutes of the meeting.

Leatherman said he didn’t learn about Stepp’s new contract until Feb. 21 — hours after the union had reached a tentative agreement with the board on a new wage pact that provided no raises except for “step” increases based on experience and education.

He said he learned about Stepp’s contract from a resident who contacted him after spotting the approval of the “amendment” to the contract in the revised minutes of the Jan. 7 work session posted on the board’s website.

Leatherman said he was shocked when he compared the online version to the one he had received before the Jan. 22 meeting where the minutes were modified.

“It was much different than the version we got,’ ” he said. “We were in the midst of bargaining and if we had noticed a new lucrative contract had been approved, we would have had members at that meeting.”

The incomplete minutes and agenda are two of 10 items listed by the union as the reason for the “no confidence” vote.

Despite that, the teachers last week overwhelmingly voted to ratify the new wage contract. Several teachers said they hoped the approval would help the chances of the district passing a 5.9-mill levy on the May 7 primary ballot.

Leatherman said teachers still want answers from the board about being blindsided by Stepp’s new contract.

“It’s frustrating,” he said. “My teachers just really want some answers.”

Leatherman acknowledged that the union has consulted with lawyers about the incomplete minutes but declined to comment further, “on the advice of legal counsel.”

School officials have given different explanations why the approval of Stepp’s contract was left out of minutes.

At the March 8 public forum, school board member Bill Grenfell said that happened because school Treasurer Jim Hudson was assigned the job of writing the minutes of the Jan. 7 work session, but missed the approval of the contract because he left early to attend a meeting in the Cloverleaf school district. Medina and Cloverleaf agreed to share a treasurer as a cost-saving move last August.

Hudson acknowledged leaving the closed “executive session” of the meeting — the minutes clock him out at 9:05 p.m. But he said the reason wasn’t because he had to go to a Cloverleaf meeting.

“The board members went into executive session,” Hudson said. “Board members took minutes when I was absent.”

The original version of the minutes states the board and Stepp returned from the executive session at 9:14 p.m. — nine minutes after Hudson’s departure.

The revised minutes state the executive session lasted 33 minutes longer — until 9:47 p.m. — followed immediately by the vote to approve Stepp’s contract.

The work session was adjourned at 9:49 p.m.

“The board corrected the minutes at the Jan. 22 meeting,” Hudson said. “That’s the purpose of reviewing the minutes to make sure we don’t miss anything.”
But anyone attending that meeting would have been hard-pressed to know anything substantial had been changed.

The recording of the meeting, available on the Medina public access cable television channel, shows Hudson did not mention the approval of Stepp’s contract when handing out the revised minutes.

“There’s also a small correction on the last page,” Hudson said. “That’s why I passed these out tonight, versus what was sent out on Friday.”

School board members didn’t return calls seeking comment on the agenda and minutes.

But last week, board President Charles Freeman suggested that the Jan. 7 minutes might be amended again to clarify that the board had approved a new contract for Stepp and not an amendment to his existing pact.

“I think there will be discussion about that,” Freeman said.

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com. Contact reporter David Knox at (330) 721-4065 or dknox@medina-gazette.com.

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The Gazette is Medina County's daily local news source, serving the community since 1832. Contact The Gazette's news department at (330) 721-4065 or areanews@medina-gazette.com.