June 24, 2016

Mostly sunny

Medina interim Superintendent: ‘I’ll lead by example’

Medina Schools interim Superintendent David Knight said he hopes he can restore residents’ confidence in the district plagued by controversy over Superintendent Randy Stepp’s contract, a state audit into use of a school fund and the removal of an operating levy from the May ballot.

“It saddens me to see some of the things that have gone on within the school system,” Knight said Thursday, his first day on the job. “I have nothing but great memories of when I have worked at Medina City Schools as a principal at Fenn.”

David Knight was selected as interim superintendent of Medina City Schools in the wake of controversy surrounding Superintendent Randy Stepp's contract and a state audit into use of a school fund. Knight was previously principal of Sidney Fenn Elementary School. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY KIERA MANION-FISCHER)

The Medina school board unanimously approved Knight, 61, for the interim position Tuesday night after a 90-minute, closed-door executive session.

“I am going to do my best to try to lead by example,” Knight said.

The district has operated without a superintendent since April 8, when Stepp was placed on paid leave, pending a special state audit of his use of district money from a “carryover” fund held by the Medina County Schools’ Educational Service Center.

The fund was used to pay for more than a quarter-million dollars for Stepp’s college loans and other educational expenses. He also used the fund to cover travel expenses.

Knight retired as principal of Sidney Fenn Elementary School last year after an approximately 22-year career there. Earlier this month, Fenn parents asked the district to name the playground at the elementary school after him. The PTO also bought a train for the playground in his honor.

Since his retirement from Fenn, Knight has worked part-time for Mapleton Schools in Ashland County as a director of special education.

On Tuesday, school board President Karla Robinson said Knight will face some immediate challenges, including teacher and administrative contracts and final graduation arrangements.

She said the board has not yet worked out how much Knight will be paid, and that his contract would be approved at a later board meeting. Knight’s contract will run through June 30.

Knight said Thursday he still didn’t know what his salary would be, but said he told the board he would work for what it was willing to pay him.

“At this point in my career, I’m not looking to make a lot of money,” he said. “I’ve been blessed by the Lord. I’ve got plenty to eat and a nice roof over my head. I just really felt badly for the Medina City Schools.”

The board has been under mounting public criticism since early March for approving a new contract for Stepp that provided him with an $83,000 signing bonus. Stepp has since agreed to give back the bonus in biweekly installments over the term of the contract, which runs through July 2019.

Last week, however, board members voted to rescind Stepp’s contract, saying they violated Ohio’s Sunshine laws when they approved it Jan. 7.

Stepp has said he would fight the move in court.

Stepp’s previous contract, signed in February 2009, would run through July 2014.

In the wake of the controversy over Stepp’s compensation, the school board voted last week to pull a 5.9-mill levy from the May 7 ballot, saying it feared the issue would fail.

When asked how long he expected to stay on as interim superintendent, Knight said he was taking it one day at a time.

“I’m hoping to fill the role until the district is able to find somebody who can do the job well and carry on into the future,” he said.

Before coming to Fenn Elementary, Knight served as a middle school teacher and elementary principal at Northwestern Schools in West Salem, where he resides.

Knight and his wife, Sue, a retired teacher, have two married children and two grandchildren.

Knight has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Ashland College (now Ashland University) and a master’s in education from the University of Akron.

“My career has been at the elementary level,” he said. “I guess I have a bit of perspective that learning ought to be fun, ought to be a great experience for children.”

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