September 16, 2014

Medina
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Medina school board asks state for audit

MEDINA — Ohio Auditor Dave Yost will conduct a special examination of a Medina Schools fund used to pay more than a quarter-million dollars in educational costs and other expenses for Superintendent Randy Stepp.

In a news release sent Friday afternoon, school board members and Treasurer Jim Hudson said they have asked the state to audit the district’s “carryover” fund held by the Medina County Schools’ Educational Service Center but managed by Stepp.

“Mr. Hudson suggested, and I agreed, that we should make a formal request to the auditor of state to conduct an audit,” board President Karla Robinson said. “The entire board is in agreement that this audit must occur.”

Stepp’s contract with the board provided for payment of the cost of his “past academic degrees” and any college courses he took while superintendent.

But board members have acknowledged not knowing how big a bill Stepp had run up. In the past three years, Stepp has directed the treasurer of the Educational Service Center to issue checks totaling nearly $172,000 to pay off his federal college loans and almost $94,000 for an executive master’s of business administration from Case Western Reserve University.

Board members said they also were unaware that Stepp had used the fund to reimburse himself for travel expenses.

On Wednesday, The Gazette reported Stepp had taken his wife and three adolescent daughters along with him to a 2008 National School Boards Association conference in Orlando, Fla. Records show he was reimbursed $4,782.89, including two nights at a luxury hotel after the four-day conference ended.

Robinson said she and Hudson have been engaged in conversations over the last three weeks about ways to improve oversight of the spending from the carryover fund, which contains money left over after the district has paid for services provided by the Educational Service Center.

“The board is asking for a thorough review of all transactions through the ESC on the district’s behalf,” the news release from the district said Friday.

The board also is asking the auditor’s office to review the proposed changes in how ESC funds are spent. The board said it expects to finalize an agreement with the state auditor next week.

Carrie Bartunek, a spokeswoman for Yost, confirmed officials from the auditor’s office will meet with board members to finalize an agreement on what the audit will entail.

“We will sit down with them and discuss the engagement and the scope,” Bartunek said.

School board members said they hope to finalize the audit agreement next week and have a report finished by the end of May.

The board is scheduled to conduct a special meeting 5 p.m. Tuesday.

According to the agenda, the board plans to discuss proposed changes aimed at providing better oversight of the ESC carryover fund.

The proposals call for expenditures less than $10,000 to require approval of the school district’s human resources director and the treasurer — not just the superintendent.

Expenses of more than $10,000 would require the signature of the school board president.

The agenda also includes an executive session to allow the board to meet behind closed doors to conduct interviews for a seat left vacant by Charles Freeman.

Freeman, who was the board president, resigned March 26 amid a growing public outcry over a new contract for Stepp, approved Jan. 7 without publicity, which included an $83,000 signing bonus. Stepp has agreed to pay back the bonus in biweekly installments through the end of the contract, which expires in July 2019.

Also on Tuesday, the board expects to approve paying $20,370 for two weeks’ work by Hennes Paynter Communications, a Cleveland public relations firm, specializing in “crisis management support.”

Earlier this week, board members said they hired the company March 6 — the day after details of Stepp’s contract was published in The Gazette.

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