June 30, 2016

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Stepp defends position in email to parents, staff

Full text of Medina Schools Superintendent Randy Stepp’s letter

MEDINA — Medina Schools Superintendent Randy Stepp sent an email to Medina parents and staff Wednesday night defending his $4,782 trip to Florida for a conference and his new contract in which he was awarded an $83,000 signing bonus he has since agreed to pay back.

In the email using the school district’s notification system, Stepp said he wanted to address “the growing misinformation and speculation circulating around my contract.”

Stepp said it was former board president Charles Freeman who helped negotiate his new contract that included the $83,000 bonus.

He said Freeman approached him to renegotiate the contract because Stepp was entertaining offers from other districts.

“With the exception of my first contract, the practice of board presidents serving as a representative of the board in contract negotiations with me has been standard during my tenure as superintendent,” he said.

Freeman resigned from the board March 26. In a statement, he said he hoped the board could move forward under new leadership. Karla Robinson is the new board president.

“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,” Freeman said in his resignation letter.

To handle the public outcry over Stepp’s contract, which included the $83,000 bonus, the school board last month hired a Cleveland public relations firm specializing in “crisis management” for $20,370.

A day after the firm was hired, the board announced Stepp would give back his $83,000 bonus.

In his email, Stepp also addressed a Gazette story published Wednesday detailing his 2008 trip to a National School Board Association Conference in Orlando, Fla.

“This article, as well as others about me and my contract with Medina City Schools, is regrettably not the complete story,” Stepp wrote.

Nowhere in the email, however, does Stepp contest any of the facts outlined in a series of Gazette stories.

After his Florida trip to a four-day conference, Stepp received a reimbursement for seven nights in a hotel, including five nights at a luxury hotel where the room for Stepp, his wife and three daughters cost $550 a night. He also was paid $1,023 for mileage for the round-trip.

All of Stepp’s reimbursements were through the district’s “carryover fund” at the Medina County Schools’ Educational Service Center.

Former board member Thomas Ebner, who also attended the conference, submitted his reimbursement through the district and was reimbursed with a check from the district treasurer’s office for $642.

Stepp wrote that if he was reimbursed inappropriately, he would be willing to pay back the money.

“It is important that you know that the District did not cover the cost of my family,” Stepp wrote. “If by chance, and I don’t think there are any, there is a situation where something was paid by the District in error, I am more than willing to cover that cost,” he wrote in the email.

Stepp also told parents and faculty that he had no cheaper hotel options available to him.

“Because I had decided late to attend, there were no available discounted conference accommodations,” he said. “We were forced to stay at a higher-priced hotel for part of the week.”

But according to district documents provided to The Gazette through a public records request, Stepp reserved two rooms at the conference through the National School Board Association’s website at least six months before the convention, and the district paid the $196.88 deposit to reserve a room for Stepp at the Caribe Royale two weeks before the conference.

Stepp was asked Tuesday why he didn’t use the reserved hotel rooms but has yet to respond.

In his Wednesday night email, Stepp said he didn’t ask to be reimbursed for the nights he spent vacationing with his family.

“I covered those costs,” he wrote.

While Stepp didn’t bill the district for two of the nine nights he stayed in Florida, he did bill the district for the nights of April 1 and 2. The conference ended on April 1.

His email doesn’t explain why he asked to be reimbursed for his nights at the hotel after the conference ended.

He also acknowledged that he stayed in Florida to vacation with his family for a few more days, but vacation requests provided by the district show the only day Stepp requested for vacation April was on the 25th.

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.