October 22, 2014

Medina
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Medina superintendent rejects criticism

Randy Stepp

MEDINA — Facing a crowd of about 200 people Wednesday night, Superintendent Randy Stepp said many people have singled him out for scorn over the controversy surrounding his new contract.

 

“While I respect the right for them to have their opinion, I don’t agree with the tone or much of what they are saying,” he said at Wednesday’s school board meeting.

“Several weeks ago, my new contract — negotiated with and approved unanimously by the board of Medina City Schools — became a hot-button issue,” he said. “I know that everything I did with my contract was above board, there is no doubt in my mind, and I have documents to support that.

The contract provided Stepp with an $83,000 signing bonus, which the school board said was aimed at keeping him from taking another job.

Stepp reiterated his previous apology about the bonus, which he has agreed to pay back in installments.

“I have apologized for something that was not wrong legally but may have been wrong in principal,” he said.

But Stepp defended the payment of more than a quarter-million dollars for his educational expenses, which was provided by his earlier contract.

“I know that everything I did with regard to the board paying for my education was also above board.”

The money for Stepp’s education came out of the “carryover” fund maintained by the Medina County Schools’ Educational Service Center. The fund contains money left after school districts pay for a variety of services, including school nurses, interpreters for the deaf, bus driver training and computer specialists.

Stepp cited his achievements as superintendent, saying he had made $11 million in savings while maintaining an excellent rating on the state Department of Education’s report card.

“The Medina schools — no matter what some have said over the last few weeks — remains among the best in Ohio and we are doing it with fewer resources and under greater duress.”

In response to the controversy surrounding payments for Stepp’s education, district Treasurer Jim Hudson outlined a proposal for tighter oversight of school “carryover” funds paid through the center.

“We will give the board a monthly update on those funds that we do use,” he said.

He said the center no longer will make payments on behalf of the district, and Medina Schools will set a cap on the carryover balance of between $50,000 and $100,000.

Under Hudson’s proposal, the school board president must sign off on checks greater than $10,000 that come from the Educational Service Center fund.

Hudson told the crowd that the board would be looking at policies and procedures for out-of-state travel and purchasing.

Although the money to pay Stepp belonged to Medina Schools, board members never saw the spending records because the checks were issued by the center.

More transparency

Hudson also said the board will change how it handles agendas and minutes. He said the board intends to eliminate action items at work sessions at the discretion of the board president.

Meeting notices of work sessions more clearly would outline the intent of the meetings, Hudson said.

“Our goal with that is to increase our transparency of how we develop our agenda items,” he said.

Hudson said board-approved minutes would be sent to union members and administrators, and would be available for inspection at the board office and upon request.

He also said the board more clearly would identify the reasons for going into executive session.

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

The Medina City Teachers Association also filed two grievances Wednesday against the school administration, charging board members with violating the teachers’ contract.

One grievance charges the school board failed to provide correct minutes, as required by the union contract, from the Jan. 7 work session where the board approved Stepp’s new five-year contract. The second grievance alleges board member William Grenfell violated the contract on March 6 by releasing details of a tentative agreement on a new teachers’ contract reached with union negotiators before the union’s members were informed.

Union representatives met with Stepp earlier Wednesday to discuss the grievances.

“These last few weeks have highlighted areas in which we’ve missed the mark,” board member Susan Vlcek said. “We’ve made a lot of headway in the past few weeks. I think we’re much closer to where we want to be than we were two weeks ago.”

Board changes

In light of former board President Charles Freeman’s resignation Tuesday, Karla Robinson was named the board’s new president Wednesday.Vlcek was sworn in as vice president.

Tom Cahalan was sworn in as the board’s newest member. Cahalan was appointed by the board last week to replace Dr. Robert Wilder, who resigned his seat in February.

Robinson announced that board is accepting applications to fill Freeman’s seat, which will be up for election in November, along with Cahalan and Grenfell’s seats.

Applications are due to the board office, 140 W. Washington St., by 3 p.m. April 5. The candidates who applied for Wilder’s seat may be considered if they wish.

Also Wednesday, the board approved the new contract with the teachers union, which calls for no increase in pay, 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 had overwhelmingly approved the contract by a 303-24 vote.

Cahalan abstained from the vote because he had not been part of the contract discussions.

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