December 19, 2014

Medina
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Editor: School board members should be accountable, too

I trust my reporters. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have to turn in detailed accounts of job-related expenses before they are reimbursed.

And while I don’t want advance notice about $5 they spent to copy some public records, I certainly expect to be told about a substantial bill — say anything more than $100.

Of course, bigger businesses raise that bar. But I would think that the boards of even the biggest corporations would want to know about a $172,011 check written to pay off the college loans of an employee.

That’s how much taxpayers spent last year to wipe out Medina Schools Superintendent Randy Stepp’s federal education loans.

Yet so far, members of the Medina Board of Education haven’t provided answers to three basic questions about that unusual benefit:

1. Did the board members know how big the bill was before agreeing to the Nov. 7, 2011, revision of Stepp’s 2009 contact that obligated the board “to pay the costs associated with the Superintendent’s acquisition of past academic degrees.

2. When did the board learn the $172,011.40 check, issued on Jan. 9, 2012, was cut by the Medina County Educational Service Center and not the school district’s treasurer.

3. Was Stepp, who became superintendent in 2006 but earned his bachelor’s degree in 1992 and his master’s of education in 1998, ever asked to explain exactly what those college loans paid for?

Gazette reporters have been asking versions of those questions since March 7, when the union representing the district’s approximately 400 teachers cited the loan payoff as one of the reasons for their vote of “no confidence” in the board and Stepp.

Neither Stepp nor board members have provided any answers.

• Board member Bill Grenfell referred questions about the loans to Charles Freeman, who now serves as board president.

• Freeman told Gazette reporter Loren Genson that he “honestly can’t remember” details of the 2011 contract revision.

• Susan Vlcek, who was board president when the contract was amended, also did a sidestep when asked whether the board had known how much Stepp still owed on his college loans. “We did invest in the education of our superintendent of our staff,” she said.

Four days ago, The Gazette gave the board members another opportunity.

On Sunday, reporter Kiera Manion-Fischer asked the three questions in emails sent to Freeman, Grenfell, Vlcek and the fourth board member, Karla Robinson.

As of Wednesday, none of the four had responded.

Manion-Fischer also telephoned Mark Dolan, who also was on the board when it approved the 2011 contract changes.

Dolan declined to comment.

“I’m staying as far away from this as possible,” he said.

The Gazette will keep seeking answers to these three questions.

Stories need endings. This story doesn’t have one yet.

David Knox is the managing editor of The Gazette. He can be reached at (330) 721-4065 or dknox@medina-gazette.com.