October 20, 2014

Medina
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Medina school board president resigns

MEDINA — On the eve of a Medina school board meeting to discuss greater spending oversight in light of controversy over Superintendent Randy Stepp’s compensation, board President Charles Freeman resigned.

In a letter Tuesday to the school board, Freeman wrote: “My focus and highest priority has always been for the best educational interests of the children in our District. Unfortunately, the events of the past few weeks have distracted from that focus. I commend all of you for your commitment to greater transparency and your efforts to improve the Board’s communications with everyone concerned with the business of the District. It is my sincere hope that with new leadership, the Board, union, teachers, administrators and community can again come together and place our collective focus where it belongs: on the kids.”

Charles Freeman

Reached by phone Tuesday night, Freeman said he did not wish to elaborate on the news release from the district announcing his resignation. “What you have is what I wish to say,” he said.

John Leatherman, president of the Medina City Teachers Association, said he thought Freeman “got on the board for the right reasons.”

“In the end, Mr. Freeman is probably showing that he does have the best interests of the community and the kids at heart,” Leatherman said. “This is probably the start of what needs to happen for the community and the district to heal.”

Leatherman said everyone involved with the controversy surrounding Stepp’s compensation has not been sleeping or eating well.

“I know it’s affected my health over the past month, and I’m sure it’s affected his health as well,” he said of Freeman.

A series of Gazette stories have outlined Stepp’s compensation, which included more than a quarter-million dollars spent on his college education.

In response to questions from The Gazette, school board members acknowledged last week they didn’t know how big a bill Stepp had run up: nearly $172,000 in back college loans and more than $93,000 for a master’s of business administration from Case Western Reserve University.

The money came out of a “carryover” fund maintained by the Medina County Schools’ Educational Service Center. All checks were issued at Stepp’s direction by the center from the fund that contains money the district didn’t use to pay the center for services such as school nurses, interpreters for the deaf, bus driver training and computer specialists.

More than 400 parents, teachers, students and other residents pack the March 8 public forum at the Medina Performing Arts Center. The Medina school board hosted the forum to respond to questions about Medina Schools Superintendent Randy Stepp’s new contract. (GAZETTE FILE PHOTO BY LOREN GENSON)

The teachers union, which represents the district’s approximately 400 teachers, on Monday criticized Stepp’s handling of money in the fund.

“MCTA finds Superintendent Stepp’s choices to direct district money appalling. When he had the opportunity to spend money on students and programs, he instead chose to use ESC money for ‘growth coaching,’ administrative retreats and other expensive perks,” according to the union’s statement.

The MCTA also blasted the district school board for being “apparently oblivious” to how the fund was used.

The controversy also has drawn the attention of Ohio Auditor Dave Yost.

At tonight’s meeting, the school board is expected to discuss a proposal for greater oversight of funds held by the center, swear in new member Thomas Cahalan and vote on a new contract with the teachers union.

The meeting was moved from its usual space in the distance learning lab to the Middle Auditorium at Medina High School in anticipation of a crowd.

Greater oversight

Medina Schools Treasurer Jim Hudson will present a proposal for greater oversight of district “carryover” funds. Hudson and Educational Service Center. Treasurer Michelle McNeely came up with the proposal.

The proposal requires that checks for less than $10,000 be approved by the school district superintendent, the treasurer and the human resources director. Payments greater than $10,000 must be approved by the school board president as well. The proposal may include a cap on the amount of the carryover fund.

The fund contains money left over after school districts pay the service center.

Teacher contract

The board also is expected to approve a new teacher contract, which was ratified March 14 by the union.

The contract includes no increase in pay for the district’s approximately 400 teachers, except for “step increases” for time in service and additional college coursework.

It also calls for an increase in the class load at the high school and higher costs to employees for health insurance.

Teachers overwhelmingly approved the contract by a vote of 303 to 24.

Board changes

Cahalan, who was appointed by the board Saturday from a field of 13 candidates, will be sworn in at the beginning of tonight’s meeting.

He works as a personal trainer at the Medina Community Recreation Center and is the former owner of TLC Packaging Inc. Cahalan, who has lived in the school district 21 years, replaces Dr. Robert Wilder, who resigned his seat in February.

The board has 30 days to fill the seat vacated by Freeman.

Board Vice President Karla Robinson will become president and the board will need to elect a new vice president.

When asked why she thought Freeman chose to resign at this time, Robinson said: “I think this has been an extremely difficult time for all of us, and Charley is a good man, a man of integrity, and he needs to focus on his family and his health and his career. …

“I truly have been honored to serve with him.”

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