September 2, 2014

Medina
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Stepp sets repayment plan for $83,000 bonus

Read more:
March 19 message from the Medina School Board
Randy Stepp’s bonus check

MEDINA — On March 8, Medina Schools Superintendent Randy Stepp told an audience of 400 gathered in the school’s Performing Arts Center that he would give back the $83,000 bonus he received in his new contract by having it deducted from his biweekly paychecks.

On Wednesday, Stepp stated those deductions would amount to nearly $1,100 per month for the duration of his contract, which expires on July 31, 2019.

Stepp was paid the $83,000 bonus as part of his regular paycheck on Jan. 17 — 10 days after the board approved his new five-year contract.

Publication of the provisions of the contract late last month set off a firestorm of criticism, including a vote of “no confidence” in the board and Stepp by the union representing the district’s approximately 400 teachers.

In addition to the bonus, which board members said was aimed at encouraging Stepp to turn down other job offers, the teachers also said they objected to the district’s payment of nearly a quarter-million dollars for Stepp’s education, including $172,011 in federal college loans paid off in January 2012.

The furor climaxed at the March 8 public forum, where Stepp apologized. In addition to giving back the bonus, he also pledged to forgo as much as $36,000 in merit raises, which also were included in the new contract.

Stepp specified the amount of his deduction in an email response to questions from The Gazette.

Earlier Wednesday, Jeanne Hurt, a school district spokeswoman, stated in an email that the bonus would be paid back “approximately $1,000 per month for the term of his contract.”

A reporter sought clarification because at that rate, the bonus wouldn’t be paid back until after Stepp’s contract expired.

Stepp wrote in an email response, “She gave you an approximation. It is actually closer to $1100 per month.”

John Leatherman, president of the Medina City Teachers Association, said he was disappointed that Stepp would not be paying back the $83,000 bonus in full, saying it amounted to “an interest-free loan.”

“We thought him paying the bonus back in full would have been a step in the right direction for the levy,” he said.

The Gazette also sought clarification from school officials about Stepp’s pledge not to accept up to $36,000 in merit raises provided by the contract.

On Tuesday, Hurt sent out a news release signed by the school board confirming Stepp had agreed to pay back the bonus in installments.

But the release also stated that Stepp was “restructuring” — rather than foregoing — his merit raises.

Contacted Wednesday, school board President Charles Freeman said the board understood that Stepp would be giving up the raises, which where based on achieving specific goals.

“It’s our understanding that he announced to the public that he’s foregoing it,” Freeman said.

In an email later Wednesday, Hurt confirmed that Stepp “has agreed to focus on achieving these goals, while not accepting any financial benefit.”

According to board records, the lengthy goal list includes establishing “a shared vision of learning and a culture that promotes a safe school environment and equity and excellence for all students,” as well as “community and staff engagement” and “district finances managed effectively.”

The specific goals for the 2012-13 school year are detailed in an agreement signed by Stepp on Feb. 5. and by Freeman on Feb. 19, according to records.

Board member Susan Vlcek said, “Dr. Stepp has not accepted those dollars but he has worked toward the goals.”

The board’s Tuesday statement, which was signed by Freeman, Vlcek, Karla Robinson and Bill Grenfell, also listed programs that could be reinstated if the 5.9-mill levy on the May ballot is approved.

The programs cited include reading intervention teachers, guidance counselors/social workers, high school busing, middle school electives, gifted services at the elementary level, and full-time elementary physical education, music and art.

The board’s statement also included an apology.

“The recent community conversations regarding our schools have drawn the interest of many,” the statement said. “We apologize for any missteps made as a Board. This experience has brought to light ways in which we can improve. We are committed to working even harder. We also want you to continue to dialogue with us; that is how we will be our best.”

Contact reporter Kiera Manion-Fischer at (330) 721-4049 or kfischer@medina-gazette.com.