April 20, 2014

Mostly sunny

Medina school board rescinds Stepp’s contract

Kiera Manion-Fischer and David Knox

MEDINA — In a surprise move, the Medina Board of Education voted Tuesday to rescind the controversial contract awarded Superintendent Randy Stepp, which included an $83,000 signing bonus.

In response, Stepp said he would go to court to enforce the contract.

Randy Stepp

The board also agreed Tuesday to withdraw a 5.9-mill levy from the May 7 primary ballot.

Board President Karla Robinson said that the board took the action to void the contract because it was not legally valid.

She explained that the contract, which the board unanimously approved on Jan. 7, violated the state Sunshine laws because the board failed to properly publicize the contract on the agenda of the meeting.

She said the required notices sent to news media did not disclose the contract, and the board did not specify the purpose of the executive session during the meeting.

The minutes of the meeting, ratified by the board on Jan. 22, listed the action as an approval of “amendment to the superintendent’s administrative contract” and not a new five-year pact.

The board did not publicize the new contract until Feb. 28 — after rumors of the signing bonus began circulating.

In the face of a public outcry, Stepp agreed to give back the bonus in biweekly installments over the term of the contract, which didn’t expire until July 2019.

Robinson said that when the controversy began, the board sought legal counsel and were told that the board had not followed Ohio’s Sunshine laws and the contract could be declared invalid.

She said the board decided to act to prevent a possible lawsuit.

“That contract is now null and void,” Robinson said. “The $83,000 retention bonus must be returned to the district.”

She did not say during the meeting whether it would be returned immediately or in the installments Stepp had previously announced.

All of the board members voted in favor of rescinding the contract except Thomas Cahalan, who said he abstained because he was not present for the contract’s approval.

In a written response to the board’s action, Stepp said the contract was valid.

Members of the Medina school board voted Tuesday to rescind Superintendent Randy Stepp’s controversial contract, which was approved Jan. 7, saying the contract’s approval violated Ohio Sunshine Laws. The board also voted to pull a 5.9-mill levy from the May ballot. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY KIERA MANION-FISCHER)

“This action is nothing more than an attempt by the board to profit from their mistake and remove themselves from a legal obligation to uphold a contract that they willfully and unanimously approved on January 7, 2013,” Stepp wrote in an email sent in response to a request for comment.

“To have things unfold the way they have tonight is very disheartening and, as a result, the board has now forced me into a position where I have no other choice but to litigate this matter.”

Stepp also addressed other questions raised about his other fringe benefits — including the payment of more than a quarter-million dollars for his educational expenses — that have fueled the controversy.

Those payments included a $172,000 check issued in January 2012 to the U.S. Department of Education to pay off his three federal college loans for his bachelor’s and master’s degrees and doctorate in education from Ashland University and nearly $94,000 in payments over the last three years to Case Western Reserve for a master’s in business administration.

Board members have said they did not know the full cost of the educational payments because Stepp used district money from a “carryover” fund held by the Medina County Schools’ Educational Service Center.

Stepp defended the payments for his education.

“I want to again assure the community that everything relating to my contracts and education expense reimbursements was done in a transparent manner and in close consultation with the acting board president at the time, including the use of the Medina County Education Service Center to cover past education costs.”

The school board has requested that state Auditor Dave Yost conduct a special audit of Stepp’s use of the carryover fund.

Pending the outcome of the audit, Stepp was placed on paid administrative leave April 8.

Stepp was ordered to turn in his keys to school buildings, swipe cards, district credit cards and other district-owned property.

He was instructed to stay away from district property except for transporting his children to and from school and was told not to use school-controlled communication systems or to communicate with district employees without permission of the board.

He also was told not to take professional development or board-paid travel while on leave.

Stepp responded to being placed on leave by sending out a mass email from his personal account to area news media and district parents.

In the email, Stepp said his contract was negotiated fairly and approved unanimously by board.

He also said the board was aware he was paying for his educational expenses out of the district’s carryover fund.

Stepp said Susan Vlcek, who served as board president in 2011, was aware of the changes in his 2009 contract that obligated the district to pay for his student loans.

In addition to his educational expenses, Stepp also used the ESC carryover fund to pay travel expenses. Earlier this month, The Gazette reported that Stepp had taken his wife and three adolescent daughters 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.

The board Tuesday approved the agreement for the state audit.

The board voted to pull the 5.9-mill levy from the May ballot after hearing comments from the community.

All of the board members voted in favor of pulling the levy from the ballot except William Grenfell, who said, “My conscience won’t let me take this levy off the ballot. My position is we keep it on and see what happens.”

Robinson disagreed, saying she knew the levy would fail.

“I do not see the value of spending an additional $29,000 or $30,000 to tell us something we already know.”

Douglas Adamczyk, who was sworn in as the newest board member, said he recognized the need for additional funding.

“We only have three weeks left before the levy,” he said. “My big concern with moving forward with the levy at this time is I do not feel it will be successful.”

About 120 people attended Tuesday’s meeting. Several commented on whether to pull the levy.

Tim Turrittin said he and his wife, Brigid, who co-chair the levy committee for Friends of Medina City Schools, said they could not continue to campaign in the face of the negative public reaction to the controversy over Stepp’s compensation.

“Unfortunately, any momentum we gained last fall has been negated in the past few months,” he said.

Ally McGarr, an eighth-grader at Claggett Middle School, said she was fortunate to have band, choir and gifted programming when she was in elementary school, but her younger brother, who goes to H.G. Blake, does not have the same opportunities.

“If the levy is kept on the ballot, I’m asking you to vote ‘yes,’ “ she said. “We are the ones who need it most.”

The Medina district has failed in the last five levy tries.

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

Contact David Knox at (330) 721-4065 or dknox@medina-gazette.com.

  • OhioTechyDude

    Getting rid of Stepp is the first ‘step’, but now it’s time to replace them all (the board). Where and when else has anyone seen someone hired and then paid to become qualified for the job given to them by their new employer? This is a total disgrace and a reminder of why Medina Schools (not the kids…) don’t deserve one more dollar, in fact even less, than what they’re getting tax-wise now. Shameful disgrace.

  • SI

    Stepp is being wronged. He is given all these perks from his bosses, now the community is up in arms over it and they throw Stepp under the bus. The board is the one who had the power to say no. They did not. They gave him the contract and the deals, now they want out of it. This is going to end up costing Medina 2xs as much with lawyers and such. They voted to give him the contract, the courts are going to favor Stepp. He’s going to get his contract and and if they go to get rid of him I am sure they will also be paying a buyout or the remainder of his contract. Before this is said and done the board is going to pay Stepp and/ or the lawyers at 1,000,000 more. This board is wasting our money. We need to stop blaming Stepp and realize he is not the one letting this happen the BOARD is.

  • Medina Taxpayer

    Randy has “to litigate” because his personal income and contract is in the best interest for the children. Five failed school levies and he acts like he is irreplaceable.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=618610984 Angie Kovacs

    There is plenty of fault to go around. Just because they were ALSO wrong, doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have to face the consequences of his own greed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/traci.rydbommonroe Traci Rydbom Monroe

    They are all to blame, him for asking and the BOE for agreeing. He is not being wronged, he wronged the taxpayers!!

  • Pay2Play

    This is the best comment so far! Why isn’t the boards attorney named in this article? nnnI have to question the personal relationships that the board members must have with some of this vocal anti-Stepp community group that has formed. I’ve seen comments like- “the board screwed up, but they’re trying to fix it now.” and “they are good people who just made a mistake. They were duped by Randy.”nnnReally? Are you people that stupid? None of this would be an issue if the board had done the job they were elected to do. They break Sunshine Laws, they break public trust, and now they break contract law and people still want Stepp’s head on a silver platter. nnnThis board is going to cost us way more than the terms of Stepp’s illegally rescinded contract. The lawyers are already circling the rotted corpse of what this board has done. The die is already cast. You can’t rescind a legally entered contract without a court order. You can’t make your Sunshine Law violations go way with a 5-0 vote. You can’t undo what you did by trying to place the blame for your wrongdoing on the shoulders of Randy Stepp.

  • Richard

    Stepp still playing the victom. He knew what he was doing and knew the way this all went down was illegal. Now charges need to be brought on stepp and the board. All this money stepp got and loans that were paid need to be repaid in full all at one time. Not over time and must pay interest as well. Board just wasted more money because levy for May has already been paid for and people are already voting. Time for Stepp and total board to go and charges to follow. Stepp wakeup. You had no contract or have to havedone what you did. You are a corrupt scum con artist just trying to screw tax payers out of more money Time to go along with total board.

  • Pay2Play

    When is the last time you said to your boss- “No. Please don’t give me what I asked for.”? They were MORE wrong for approving what they did. If you are really going to run for board, you better get it straight who is ultimately responsible for every decision that comes out of that board room. The Super and Treasurer can only recommend agenda items. It up to the BOARD to vote on recommendations in the best interest of district residents, not Stepp.

  • Common Sense

    And taking away his contract is going to do what? We still owe him the money. Here is an idea for you. Lets sit down with an outside attorney and go over this entire thing….from violations of Sunshine laws to interest free loans to what ever else we have going here. Lets make a list and take them one at a time. Maybe then, the BOE will realize how badly they have screwed this up and that rescinding Randy’s contract will do nothing more than get us in deeper. These “issues” have to be dealt with individually. This is not a one solution fits all deal. nn Did you screw up and offer to pay him way too much in the first place? Yesn Did you do it behind closed doors and not report it correctly? Yesn Did you agree to give him an insane bonus? Yesn Did you agree to re-pay all of his loans? Yesn Did you sign off on the family vacation in Orlando? Yesn Did you ever think in a million years that any of this would come out? Non I’m not a fan of Randy. I’ve met him a few times and he never impressed me. With that said, he is not totally at fault here. ” Hey Randy, we want you to stay. What’s your crazy number?” O.K….sounds good to us. Sign here.” I don’t fault him for taking the money. I’m mad that he thinks that much of himself for asking for it. It’s even worse that we gave it to him in the first place. And, a big heartfelt THANK YOU to the BOE for wasting all of OUR money, money that could be helping the kids learn to read. I can’t begin to thank each and every one of you enough. PLEASE RESIGN NOW!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=618610984 Angie Kovacs

    I’m self-employed, and I’ve often given my clients discounts when I thought the situation merited it. He’s a public employee, this isn’t Wall Street. He’s supposed to be doing what’s best for the district, not what’s best for himself.

  • District mom

    No matter what the board and stepp say now, its all a big fail. Without the community trusting them doing whats right. There is nothing left for the schools and students but for all them to resign or be charged. To be honest I am sick of hearing about the idiots running the district into the ground. They all need to go!

  • Pay2Play

    The board should be doing what’s best for the district. That’s why people voted for them. You didn’t vote for Stepp, but they did.

  • Roger

    What a corrupt school board Medina has. So sad. Levy, levy, levy… that’s all they know. Now we find out it costs $30K to put one on the ballot. No wonder my NE Ohio has the highest property taxes in the entire nation.

  • Roger

    I guess it wasn’t all about the kids after all huh MCSB?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=618610984 Angie Kovacs

    We agree on that.

  • tammigirl

    Another dirty, dirty move by the school board. It sure doesn’t look good. That whole board needs to be removed and replaced.

  • tammigirl

    They want to ‘break’ the contract so they can come out smelling like roses and make Stepp look bad. It’s pretty transparent to me.

  • Roger

    Read the article. The whole school board is corrupt! Get rid of every stinking one of them.

  • NinetoFive

    Stepp is also doing a great job looking bad all on his own. As mentioned by others here I never liked him and his attitude. He often gives very flippant answers to parent’s questions and I never saw him as a true leader for our schools. That said the Board failed miserably in giving him the keys to the kingdom and in their ability to place controls on the taxpayer money, transparency and accountability.

  • McCheeseFist

    so does greedy Stepp… you medinites are being punked making people rich off teaching you brats… enjoy it you suckers…

  • McCheeseFist

    Everyone got caught with their fingers in the cookie jar… Stepp with his huge payday and the board got caught handing him the cookie jar. They are covering but the filth and corruption are already exposed… greed rules the day in medina school systems… People getting rich off your tax dollars…

  • SI

    What was illegal that Stepp did? The only laws that were broken were broken by the school board and now they are trying use their breaking the law to take away a contract. Richard, let me know if I’m missing something, but Stepp has not broken any laws. I say we get rid of the board and bring one in who will tell Stepp NO! If we get rid of Stepp it is going to cost us at least a million, I say that is wasteful, lets bring in people who will make it so hard on him he leaves.