April 20, 2014

Hazy moonlight

Board to public: Should we proceed with levy?

MEDINA — The Medina City school board is asking voters whether they should keep the 5.9-mill levy on the May primary ballot or hold off until the November general election.

“We are eager to hear from community members what should be done about leaving the levy on the ballot or postponing it,” board President Karla Robinson said in a statement Wednesday. “We have heard conflicting opinions from our various stakeholders — teachers, students, parents, community members.

“This is a difficult decision, as the need for funds hasn’t gone away.”

The district, which has failed to pass a levy in five tries, is facing a $3 million deficit in fiscal year 2014, a projected deficit of $5.6 million in fiscal year 2015 and an 18.2 million deficit in fiscal year 2016, officials have said.

Levy supporters fear a backlash from voters over the continuing controversy surrounding Superintendent Randy Stepp .

Stepp was suspended with pay Monday, pending an investigation by the state auditor into his spending of district money held in a “carryover” fund at the Medina County Schools’ Educational Services Center .

The fund was used to pay more than a quarter million dollars for Stepp’s college education costs and for travel expenses.

This is the second time the board has considered pulling the levy from the May 7 ballot. On March 15 — 10 days after The Gazette published details of Stepp’s new contract, which included an $83,000 signing bonus — the board agreed to move forward with the levy campaign.

But subsequent revelations about the fringe benefits in Stepp’s contracts, including paying off his federal college loans and the cost of a master’s in business administration, and questions about other payments from the ESC carryover fund have fueled continued controversy.

Last week, The Gazette reported that in 2008 Stepp was reimbursed $4,782.89 from the ESC fund for a 2008 trip to Orlando , Fla., for a National School Boards Association conference. Stepp was accompanied by his wife and three teenage daughters and has said he billed the district only for his expenses. But records show he included receipts for two nights at a luxury hotel after the four-day conference ended.

The “Medina City Schools Outrage” Facebook page, started in early March by Medina resident Mark Kuhar, continues to call for more action by the board.

“I’d like to see another couple people resign from the board,” said Kuhar , who has two children attending Medina schools and another who graduated from Medina High. “I certainly would like to see a new superintendent.”

Kuhar has organized a meeting today at 7 p.m. at Williams on the Lake , 787 Lafayette Road , Medina , “to plan a course of action for the coming weeks.”

“At some point the Outrage Page is going to become the Engaged Page,” he said.

Kuhar said he put a survey question on his Facebook page today asking “Would you vote for a school levy if you were satisfied that the school had a dire financial need and the right administrative people were in place to assure financial responsibility?”

The vote count as of Wednesday night was 100 “yes” and 24 “no.”

Kuhar was one of about 30 people who attended Tuesday’s school board work session who were disappointed they were not allowed to speak. Several people interrupted the meeting with questions and urged the board to withdraw the levy to save money.

The board is inviting residents to comment on the levy on the district’s web site, www.medinacityschooldistrict.org.

Residents may also attend the board’s next meeting, which has been scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Medina High School ’s Middle Auditorium. The board plans to reserve additional time for public comment at that meeting.

How much the board could save is not clear.

Carol Lawler, Medina County Board of Elections director, said the elections board has not yet provided an estimate to the school district for how much it would cost to pull the levy off the ballot now that early voting has begun.

The total cost of the election to district taxpayers would be between $1,000 and $1,200 per precinct, and the district has 33 precincts, Lawler said.

So far, the board has completed poll worker training, printed paper ballots for Election Day, and completed voting machine testing. But most of the cost stems for moving voting machines to polling locations the Friday before the election, she said.

If the levy is approved, the district has pledged to reinstate programs that have been cut, including reading intervention teachers at the elementary level, guidance counselors/social workers, busing, middle school electives, gifted services rotating between buildings at the elementary level, and full-time elementary level physical education, music and art, as opposed to the current two-thirds time.

Now, busing is at state minimum standards, where students who live fewer than two miles from school do not get busing, and there is no transportation for high school students.

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

  • Common sense

    I’m not sure you can pull it now . Sounds like there is already money tied up in it. I guess we let it ride and see where it goes. nn I personally think that this levy will get killed…but not for the reasons you think. First off, I don’t think anyone expects Randy Stepp to be around next year. Let’s cut our losses and let him go now. He isn’t going to resign. Can’t say that I blame him. He’s just hanging out at home, getting paid. I’m sure he has a nice buyout clause and he is going to make us use it. Cut him loose now and let us know…truthfully…what it cost and maybe we can use some of the levy money to make him go away. nn Next, the school board has got to drop this arrogant, defiant mode that they are in. Come clean guys. You got conned by a con man. Just admit it and let’s get this over with. Your not going to jail. You made a mistake. Own up to it and offer this community a genuine apology. We have all screwed up in our lives. Admit it, apologize and lets go.nUnless I have missed something here, we have never gotten anything close to an apology. All I have seen is that “We didn’t know how much it was”. Great. If your name is on the contract, whether you read it or not, you understood what you where doing. Same goes with his expense reports. If you signed off on it…..n You may actually have a chance on this levy if you step up and do the right things…..NOW. You can’t wait much longer. It has been a long time since the community has been this fired up. Start the healing process…..you know what has to be done….now do it.

  • MedinaMomof3

    Why does seem like every move is “orchestrated”? They are asking for public input the day after refusing to allow “the public” to speak or ask questions at their BOE meeting??

  • Buffalo

    Dear Medina City Schools BOE,nnAfter the disastrous few months you’ve already had this year, you want to know if you should keep the levy on the ballot? REALLY? Are you so arrogant and completely out of touch with reality that you have no idea what should be done? You have next to no chance of passing this levy, thanks mostly in part to your obliviousness to the monetary and PR mess you now have on your hands. The ballot costs have already been paid for, so if the levy is taken off the ballots then more money will be wasted (a skill that the BOE seems to have mastered). Your collective defense of, “We didn’t know how much it was” really garners trust from a community whose taxes pay for the salaries of those who don’t seem to earn or deserve them. The way I see it, this is a lose-lose-lose situation: the levy will most likely not pass (lose), the students will have more opportunities taken away from them or have to pay more to get them back (lose), and the taxpayers end up footing the bill for more lost funds (lose). Since none of you seem to have a grasp of what’s going on, you might all want to strongly consider resigning so that more qualified (and honest) people can have a chance to correct your mistakes.

  • Common Sense

    BRAVO….and YES, they are that out of touch. If we don’t talk about it or let you talk about it, it will all just go away.

  • Sandra Dombrowski

    I understand that we have a long way to go in restoring public confidence. Here are my thoughts on whether the Levy should remain on the May ballot…As I weigh my decision whether the Medina City Schools (MCS) Levy should remain on the May ballot, I do so as a parent, a concerned citizen and as a former audit manager. nn As a parent, you want the best for your own children and extend this wish to everyoneu2019s children. I am pained by the lasting effects of past budget cuts due to school Levy failures. I worry that, if a violent incident happens at our schools, such as Chardon High School or Sandy Hook Elementary, MCS will have inadequate psychological services to support students. Whether one of my children is the bullied or the bully, I want school psychological services to help identify these behaviors and advocate proactive measures to prevent violence and bullying. It also scares me that beginning in 2013-14 school year, a third grader will FAIL if he/she does not meet Ohiou2019s new reading standard. Currently, MCS does not have funds for Reading Intervention Specialists to support students struggling to meet Ohiou2019s new reading requirement. I was one of six children and could not afford to play sports if I had to pay to participate. Through sports, I learned perseverance, collaboration, and many other life lessons. As a parent, I want all children to have equal access to sports and extracurricular activities regardless of their paying ability. A successful Levy will help parents sleep at night knowing MCS can properly fund the best possible academic environment for all students. nn As a former auditor and businessperson, I struggle with payments made using ESC funds. Yet, I strongly endorse the Medina City Schools Board of Educationu2019s decision to request a State audit and place Superintendent Stepp on administrative leave. These measures will provide greater oversight of ESC funds and drive financial accountability. Like many in the community, I am baffled that Superintendent Steppu2019s contract in November 2011 allowed for payment of past academic degrees. However, I support the appointment of new Board members Tom Cahalan and Doug Adamczyk and, in fairness, must consider that Board member Karla Robinson did not begin her term until January 2012. nn As a concerned citizen in a democratic country, I understand public officials serve defined terms and voters have the opportunity to rate performance by voting u201cYesu201d or u201cNou201d to reelect them. Three Board of Education positions will be on the ballot in November (two of which are newly appointed Board members) and the public must trust that these three members will constitute a majority on the Board. In 2015, the terms expire for the two remaining Board positions (Robinson and Vlcek). I would call on community members, holding a grudge against the Board of Education, to exercise their voting rights when each Board member seeks reelection. Until this time, do not harm our children by voting u201cNou201d on the Levy.nn In conclusion, my answer is u201cYesu201d, I want the Levy to remain on the May ballot; however, I understand that the community needs time to heal and the timing may be premature to gain adequate public support. The Board will have a better gauge of public opinion after the meeting on Tuesday, April 16th. Yes, I want a successful Levy to restore school psychologists, guidance counselors, Reading Intervention Specialists, eliminate pay to play for sports and bring back other critical school services. I strongly believe that the community must begin the healing process by supporting the Levy and show our children that we are committed to their future. n Sandra Dombrowskin (former applicant for the vacancy on the Medina City Schools Board of Education)

  • http://www.facebook.com/jay.harbath Jay Harbath

    “But most of the cost stems for moving voting machines to polling locations the Friday before the election, she said.” 33 precincts, very portable voting machines and most of the cost is moving them in and out? If we start at teh often quoted $20K number, why should it cost $10K to $15K to move a few hundred voting machines? Two guys and a truck should be able to handle that job. Sounds like yet another way to soak the tax payers.

  • Truth Sayer

    Your comments are pragmatic, but unfortunately, will not end the dilemma. True the board was snookered, but the con man has already retained a lawyer and will end up with a very golden parachute at the expense of the taxpayers. To even suggest that the School Board stay on and try to make nice with the community will result in levies not passing while anyone of the are in office. As in any politics or business, they must go now. Can anyone trust a Board who have a fiduciary obligation to the community sign a blank check? Not only did they violate the communitiesu2019 trust, the Board’s lack of moral turpitude was clearly displayed when they paid a PR firm 20K to spin the facts.

  • Truth Sayer

    You are correct, they have failed in their fiduciary obligation to the community. They must go!

  • http://www.facebook.com/dale.costello.142 Dale Costello

    I can`t believe that you are asking the questionn if the levy should be kept on the ballot? I need to say no and why even think about another levy ever again. Heck if you have the money to give to Randy well then you have the money for your other NEEDS. I am about ready to put my house on the market and get out of Medina just like a lot of others already have in the past few years.

  • Gary Hooker

    Keep the levy on the ballot. That way when it is voted down by a huge margin the BOE and Stepp will get the message that until Stepp is gone and those members of the board who voted to approve his contrac,t and contract amendment that allowed him to get reimbursement for >250k in education costs, resign or are voted out!