June 26, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Packed house slams school board, Stepp

MEDINA — About 200 people attended a Medina school board meeting on Wednesday and most cheered repeated calls for the resignation of board members and Superintendent Randy Stepp.

Stepp and the board have come under intense scrutiny following rumors last month about a new five-year contract for the superintendent, quietly approved Jan. 7, that provided an $83,000 signing bonus.

The crowd reacts to an audience member’s call Wednesday night for the resignation of all members of the Medina school board. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY STEVE MANHEIM)

Stepp has agreed to return the bonus in $1,100-per-month installments. But the public furor increased following a series of stories in The Gazette reporting on provisions of his early contract that resulted in the payment of more than $265,000 to cover the cost of Stepp’s education, including nearly $94,000 for a master’s of business administration and $172,000 to pay off his federal college loans from earlier degrees.

Board members acknowledged last week that they didn’t know the total amount of the payments, which were paid at Stepp’s direction with Medina Schools’ funds held by the Medina County Schools’ Educational Service Center.

On Tuesday, school board President Charles Freeman announced his resignation.

Many of those in the audience speaking at Wednesday’s meeting asked other board members to do the same.

Rachel Mone said the financially strapped district needs to pass its 5.9-mill levy on the May ballot. But said she couldn’t support it.

“I believe that you — the board members and Randy Stepp — are not acting in the best interest of the education of the children of Medina, for the taxpayers, for the teachers or our town,” she said. “I am requesting the resignation of each and every one of you, including Randy Stepp.

“Kudos for Mr. Freeman for coming to this conclusion on his own.”

Five others who came to the microphone during the public comment portion of the meeting also called for the resignation of the board and Stepp.

Some said they needed to step down because they had lost the trust of voters. Others charged they had demonstrated a lack of ethics and integrity.

Gary Levine read aloud the list of “rules and responsibilities” of superintendents found in Ohio Department of Education’s 2008 manual and said Stepp failed to live up to those standards.

New president of the Medina Board of Education, Karla Robinson, second from right, reads the resignation letter of Charles Freeman, former board president, at a meeting Wednesday night. Freeman resigned his seat Tuesday. Also pictured, from left: board member Susan Vlcek, district Treasurer Jim Hudson and Superintendent Randy Stepp. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY STEVE MANHEIM)

“I don’t think it was ethical to take a quarter-million dollars from the district for your education and then turn around and use it as leverage to get a better deal with threats to go elsewhere,” he said.

At the beginning of the meeting, Stepp said he agreed to give back the $83,000 bonus because “I’m working to do what I think is the right thing.”

Stepp said the installment payments will begin Friday and would continue over more than six years. He asked the board to put the money in a special fund earmarked for “unique student services and special training for teachers.”

But Mone argued that he should pay back the $83,000 with interest.

“The money needs to be repaid as any loan is — with interest — or paid in its entirety now,” she said. “Randy Stepp only agreed to return the money after he got caught accepting the bonus.”

While the board took a considerable amount of heat during the meeting, some in the audience suggested ways to achieve better transparency and accountability.

“The board asked, and the teachers agreed, to open their contract about a year and a half ago for the sole purpose of making concessions for the benefit of the kids and the community,” Char Arthur said. “I believe that it is now time to open Dr. Stepp’s existing contract to remove all perks, bonuses and signing bonuses.”

Arthur asked the board to cap the number of sick days and vacation days in the contract also.

“These changes will serve to even out the overly generous contracts of the past and demonstrate to the community that the BOE and Dr. Stepp are willing to help right a wrong,” she said.

The board listened to 13 community members who wanted to address the board, before taking action on other agenda items.

Board President Karla Robinson said the board took notes on comments and would try to address questions and concerns publicly as soon as possible.

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

Loren Genson About Loren Genson

Loren Genson was The Gazette's senior reporter. From August 2012 through September 2015, she covered Brunswick city and state and national government. To contact The Gazette, call the managing editor at (330) 721-4065.