April 23, 2014

Mostly cloudy

Stepp files lawsuit against school board in federal court (Updated with text of lawsuit complaint)

Full text of lawsuit complaint

Press release issued by Stepp’s attorneys

Kiera Manion-Fischer and David Knox

Medina City Schools Superintendent Randy Stepp has filed a federal lawsuit charging school board members and other district officials with breach of contract, defamation and invasion of privacy.

The suit was filed Friday in U.S. District Court, Northern District, in Cleveland.

Named as defendants are school board President Karla Robinson and board members Susan Vlcek, Doug Adamczyk and William Grenfell; James Shields, the school district’s general counsel; and district Treasurer James Hudson.

Randy Stepp

Stepp was placed on paid leave April 8 pending completion of a special state audit of his use of a district “carryover fund” held by the Medina County Schools’ Educational Service Center.

On April 16, the school board rescinded Stepp’s new contract, arguing it was not valid because the board had violated the state’s open meeting law by failing to properly publicize the Jan. 7 meeting where it was approved.

The actions followed a public furor over the new contract, which provided Stepp an $83,000 “retention” signing bonus, and subsequent publicity about earlier contracts that obligated the district to pay for Stepp’s old college loans and for a master’s of business administration.

School board members have said they did not know the full cost of Stepp’s educational expenses, which totaled more than a quarter-million dollars.

A November 2011 amendment to Stepp’s 2009 contract provided for payment of “past academic degrees.” The following January, Stepp directed the county Educational Service Center to write a $172,000 check to the U.S. Deparment of Education to pay off his old college loans for his bachelor’s master’s and doctorate degrees in education from Ashland University.

The ESC fund also was used to pay more than $94,000 for his MBA degree from Case Western Reserve University, awarded in 2012.

Stepp’s lawsuit charges that the board was fully aware of the full cost of the contract provisions but falsely claimed ignorance in a March 22 press release.

“Before the press release was forwarded to the news outlets, however, Stepp had forwarded to the Board of Education his 2011 email communications with Vlcek and Shields discussing the cost of Stepp’s past academic degrees, the fact that the amendment applied to Stepp’s three past academic degrees, and the fact that payment would be made out of the ESC,” the lawsuit states.

In the emails and telephone conferences, Stepp had “estimated the cost of his past academic degrees at $150,000 to $175,000, and Stepp, Vlcek and Shields discussed the fact that the costs would be reimbursed from the Educational Service Center,” the suit states.

“Notwithstanding its falsity, the Board of Education issued the press release signed by all of the members of the Board at the time, including Vlcek, Robinson and Grenfell, and it was reprinted verbatim by The Medina Gazette and widely reported by other news outlets.”

The March 22 press release from the board was in the form of answers to questions sent to board members by The Gazette.

Asked “When the board agreed to pay the cost of Dr. Stepp’s past education, did you have a general idea of how large the bill would be?,” the board responded:

“The Board of Education encouraged Dr. Stepp’s education and professional development. The Board of Education was aware that Dr. Stepp was receiving tuition reimbursement. The Board was not aware of the extent of the reimbursement or that it applied to all degrees.”

The lawsuit charges Shields, the district’s general counsel, told board members, the district’s director of community relations and the Medina City Teacher’s Association that he did not believe the 2011 contract amendment was intended to authorize the reimbursement of Stepp’s costs for the past degrees.

The lawsuit said the statement “placed Stepp in a false light, namely, that Stepp acted improperly in relation to reimbursement for past academic degrees.”

The lawsuit does not state exactly when Shields made that statement.

The lawsuit also charges the district illegally reduced Stepp’s paycheck.

After the board rescinded Stepp’s contract, Hudson sent Stepp a letter April 23 saying he was “reducing his pay to the pre-2013 Contract level, and demanding that Stepp return the retention bonus,” according to the lawsuit.

Stepp announced at a March 8 board meeting that he had agreed to give back the bonus.

“The board did not ask me to give back that $83,000,” Stepp said at the meeting. “That was my choice. I offered it. I volunteered.”

But the lawsuit stated that the board pressured Stepp into volunteering to repay his bonus and forego merit raises and that he had reserved the right to rescind the offer “should the environment change or unforeseen circumstances arise.”

The lawsuit stated Stepp was revoking those offers and demanding both to keep the bonus and to receive promised “merit-based performance bonuses.”

In addition to allegations of illegally breaking the contract, the lawsuit seeks damages for “breach of contract, as well as damages for the injury to Dr. Stepp’s reputation and standing in the community, humiliation, mental anguish and suffering, as well as lost income and future earning capacity,” according to a press release from Stepp’s attorneys, David Drechsler and Michael J. Matasich of the Akron law firm of Buckingham, Doolittle and Burroughs.

The press release quotes Stepp saying, “I have put my heart and soul into serving the children and families of this district over the last 11 years and, by all accounts, I have been doing that job well.

“Without question, this is absolutely the last thing I ever wanted to see happen — but I was left with no other choice.”

The press release adds that Stepp “will not comment further on any aspect of this situation while litigation is ongoing.”

John Leatherman, president of the teachers’ union, responded Sunday to the lawsuit.

“I have to say, after spending time reviewing mounds of records and receipts, I don’t see how, with the frivolous spending of Mr. Stepp, he can claim to have put his heart and soul into serving our children and families,” he said.

The suit does not specify a dollar amount that Stepp seeking in damages.

But in addition to “the amount of the full value of the 2013 contract” — which was estimated by the teachers’ union to be worth $1.2 million — Stepp also is asking for “compensatory damages including, but not limited to, lost income, lost earning capacity, reputational damage, damage to his standing in the community, humiliation, mental anguish and suffering, and other money damages and special damages against the Board of Education, as well as against Vlcek, Robinson, Grenfell, Adamczyk, Shields and Hudson in their individual capacities.”

The suit also seeks punitive damages against Vlcek, Robinson, Grenfell, Adamczyk, Shields and Hudson, along with attorneys’ fees, interest and court costs.

Board President Karla Robinson declined to comment, saying she hadn’t yet had a chance to read the lawsuit.

“I just don’t feel comfortable commenting on something I haven’t seen,” she said. “We have to confer with our attorneys before we would comment on anything like that.”

Robinson said the board would discuss the lawsuit in executive session following today’s board meeting. Ohio’s open meetings laws allow public boards to discuss pending litigation in sessions closed to the public.

Adamczyk also said he was unable to comment because he had not yet seen the lawsuit.

None of the other school officials named in the lawsuit returned calls seeking comment Sunday.

Contact reporter Kiera Manion-Fischer at (330) 721-4049 or kfischer@medina-gazette.com and David Knox at (330) 721-4065 or dknox@medina-gazette.com.

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

    Yep, it’s all about the kids!!

  • Rick Leiby

    Yep all about the students my a@@. It all about how much more money he can screw the tax payers out of. Warning to any and all school district or really any employers. Remember The name Randy Stepp and run if he asks for a job. He is not never was for the students. Just all about him self and all the money!!!! He needs to have charges filed on him. But no one has the guts to do what needs done as well as on the board also!!!!

  • Buffalo

    Hey Randy – are we as taxpayers footing the bill for your legal fees in addition to all of the things that we’ve already bought you (your entire college education, your iPad, another family vacation, etc.)? Here’s a silly question: when you were quoted as saying, u201cI have put my heart and soul into serving the children and families of nthis district over the last 11 years and, by all accounts, I have been doing that job well…,” what exactly did you do? I mean, honestly – what was your job as a superintendent? I’m not really sure what a superintendent does, other than being an over-paid and over-glorified supervisor. What I think, Randy, is the last thing you wanted to have happen is to be in the mess that you got yourself into. Well, you brought it upon yourself – if you were a better “supervisor,” you would have seen it coming. As far as the school board’s claim of ignorance, I’m not sure if that’s the truth or not; if they were to claim stupidity, however, I would back them 100%. I think it’s time for a clean slate – get rid of the everyone in the administration from top to bottom. This soap opera really has to stop, it’s embarrassing!

  • Rick Leiby

    Buffalo well stated. He new just what he was doing. That is why he claim to have another job offer. So he could set his scam into action. What I want to know. Is when or did they ever end his old contract that ends in 2014. Or was Stepp working under 2 contracts. If they did end old one. Then how did they end new contract and still pay Stepp under old contract. Sounds like real can of worms. Board, Stepp, and treasure need to be gone and dereliction of duty charges need to be filed along with other charges.

  • Medina Mom of Three

    Distorted thinking RS to justify your entitled behavior – I would have been fired by my company at the first expensed personal charge on my company card.

  • Heather

    About time he stood up for himself – he executed a legal document, which had knowledge by both parties. Stepp is not to blame for getting a good contract for himself and his family. The school board is responsible for negotiating a bad one for the community. And I live in Medina, pay taxes in Medina and have children in the Medina school system – so I am inpacted by all of it. nnNo one takes exception when a union asks for more money. When the union gets more – people claim that it is cost of living – so why shouldn’t Stepp be able to do the same thing. Because that’s all it is – he just negotiated a contract for wages and benefits – he just did it by himself and he doesn’t even have to pay union dues. Some will say they don’t get as much as Stepp did – they also don’t have the level of responsibility or accountability that he does, so it should be more. Anyone ever see something like this play out in the media when a union employee is accused of doing something wrong – nope!nnDid anyone ever think about how much it would cost to go find a new superintendent, and how much additional they might have to pay to bring someone here – wonder if that cost would outweigh the cost of his new contract – bet it would, but no one asks or even knows about that cost. nnAs to his job performance – if he was so bad at his position, then why did they keep renewing it -or- why didn’t anyone take objection before. I find it unfair and shady that the school board chose actions in the media and by suspending him for actions that they approved. Once again, the school board is at fault here – they didn’t have to approve it. My objection to his performance is that he can’t seem to balance a budget – don’t keep asking me for more money just because you can’t manage a budget. I have to manage a budget with both my family and my work – I don’t get to ask people to pay for my overspend – so they shouldn’t either. nnWhat about his children? They have to go to school with everyone knowing what is playing out in the media. And I am sure there are more than a couple parents out there who have told their children their opinions and it is spilling back into the school and to his kids. nnMy question is why do we need a school board. Take those monies and improve your schools. We already have the state who determines what the requirements are for the kids. We have teachers and administrators who execute it. So……what value do they add?

  • lookingallaroundme

    Heather, I agree on some of your points–mainly local boards are a romantic notion of the past. Local boards get “recommendations” from the OSBA. They enact those 100% of the time. The Ohio School Boards Association recommends all sorts of policy changes and spending for mandates. They offer broad spectrum legal advice. In addition, the State of Ohio and ODE are setting all sorts of education policy which the local board rubber stamps. The CORE curriculum, evaluation rules, testing requirements, even teaching methods are all being handed down from Kasich and the state. Local control is mostly gone. The parts that are left–Well, Medina will be in court over it.

  • Lisa

    Yes, I agree he needs to stand up for himself. It’s a shame that the school board, who was in knowledge all this time, didn’t want the flack of frivolous spending accusations from the community and made him their fall guy. “Stepp Down” but the school board can pretend like they’re completely innocent and this is all HIS fault? Right. At this point, the only respect I have for ANYONE is the former school board president who immediately resigned. shame on you. Accept some responsibility for your own actions and model something positive for our kids, who I GUARANTEE have been watching all this mess unfold.

  • Richard Leiby

    @Heather the same can be said about the over paid over benefited over perked corrupt superintendent Stepp. Why does the district need to be paying him everything they have when there is a large layer of administration supervisor in place that run this district. Not Stepp. The board needs to stepupand do the job of superintendent. Just look at everything that could of been being paid for with all that money that went to Stepp and that he used for what ever he wanted. It is the boards job to be over seeing everything any. So they can save a ton of money by doing away with do nothing superintendents job all together. Put that money where it should be to the students education mot Stepp back pocket.

  • TonyaMarie

    Heather, you are so dilusional on the stepp issue its not even funny any longer. Do you support how he took the money? He proposed new contract, many people do that. But he of all people knew he was in violation of sunshine laws. He knew the district was finacially strapped but he continued to spend money that should of went to the students. How many employers pay for for college education before being hired? None! Im not excusing the board for being so ignorant. The board should all be fired, all of them. But stepp did wrong on merit as well. I just cant support a crook!

  • Medina retiree

    Let me put the sequence of events together:nBoard members of the past gave unreasonable promises to please the voters.nThen they gave nice perks and benefits to Randy Stepp just because, heck, it’s not their money they’ve spent.nChicken came to roost in form of deficits and levies and “outraged residents” revolted and defamed Stepp and BoE members.nNewly “elected” BoE members to please the vocal voters, AGAIN, did such a stupid thing as “rescinding” the valid written contract because, heck, it’s not their money on the line.nAnd now all of it will come around and bite those “outraged voters”‘s behinds in form of lost lawsuit and legal fees.nAnd there will be more levies and deficits. And no Randy Stepp to blame for it. And by the way, good luck to those “outraged voters” trying to hire a worthy superintendent without bullet-proof contract.

  • Shawn

    once a crook always a crook. Whats wrong randy? You know that after you stole money from the kids that you will never get hired again anywhere? So now you are trying to get all you can? Why not sue all the citizens of Medina also? Only people who support you are people who do not know the facts, those who benefitted from your thievery, or other criminals who want to do the same thing you did and hope they can learn from you. I think you belong in jail, are you going to sue me too?

  • Forwhatisright

    @ Medina Retiree, Stepp is to blame for billing the board into everything he demanded by telling them he had these so claimed offers else where. If you don’t do what I want I will leave and take one of the other offers. Well this board should have left him go. He couldn’t have left until his contract he had with district ran out in 2014 or the district would be suing Stepp now. But he had this board believing he was God and they could not do any better then him. Or so how wrong that is. Stepp is a corrupt as day is long. A scam artist why you think he bought all those books on tax payer dime that had nothing to do with his college classes. They were so he could learn how to rip off the district and tax payers. So he could control the board members. He has stolen the education of the students of Medina schools with all his theft and miss use of district fund to better him self and his family. He is so corrupt he needs to be shamed right out of Medina. His children really have someone to really lookup to. All this suit is is a scam to get board to make deal with him for lot mote tax dollars and that no charges be filed. Well the board need to stand their ground on this then push charges on Stepp.

  • ArabellaC

    @MedinaRetiree, I think what you fail to understand is that it was NOT A VALID CONTRACT.nnThe contract was never legal from the start because of the way it was voted upon.nnThat is what I don’t think anyone is paying attention to!!nnNo one is rescinding a valid contract! IT WAS NEVER LEGAL TO BEGIN WITH. I don’t have the ordinance on hand at the moment, but it’s been widely posted, actions that took place in the meeting that approved that contract were illegal and therefore invalid.

  • Medina retiree

    Yup-yup. Try to bring such an argument to court and see how fast it will be laughed at.nR.Stepp has a signed contract on his hand, and BoE has a simple choice to plea stupid (“oops, we didn’t know the Sunshine law and didn’t vote properly”) or felony (“we did know that we violate Sunshine law but signed illegal contract anyway”). Either plea – Stepp wins. Nobody in a court follows the fair-unfair line, only legal-illegal. And Stepp has the written contract, which was rescinded by no fault of his own, hence BoE will pay in full.nAnyway, the lawsuit is also about defamation and monetary injury by mouth-ran-wild of BoE members, which Stepp will win hands-down.

  • Medina retiree

    Shoulda-woulda-coulda do not count. The Board signed the contract, and they’ll have to pay. Regardless on your evaluation of moral standards of R.Stepp, he has done nothing illegal, only “shameful” as some people say. I agree, the Board should not sign his contract and give him his perks. But they have, and now they have to pay. And, by the way, those are the BoE members Medina residents have voted for, and as such, they, the voters, are to bear full burden of the contract. Next time – vote for better board members, the kind, which does not sign stupid and “corrupt” contracts.

  • OhioGuy10

    Wow! This is going to get UGLY! First let me say I agreenthat Randy is on the same level as Lord Voldemort. That being said I see the community of Medinanpaying a lot to have this settled. Randy is guilty here, guilty of greed, gluttony,ndishonesty, lack of morals and you could go on and on. The fact is the MedinanBoard is a comedy of errors. They screwed up and let Randy walk all over them.nThey are elected to represent the best interest of the community, hire,nevaluate and fire if necessary the Superintendent and Treasurer. It is at best a thankless job but they chosento do it. They chose poorly. The failed in their jobs and they continue tonfail. The phrase u201cFuture Earningsu201d is going to cost us dearly because bynthrowing Randy under the bus to save themselves without thinking they will makenus pay for him to sit on his but because, as so many of us has pointed out, whonwould hire him after the board said they were deceived by him. They were notndeceived, they were stupid. Included in that is also the Treasurer and BusinessnManager. As this lawsuit continues I expect the board will throw someone else under the bus as well. They should have stepped forward and admitted their mistakes and it would not be that bad. We still could have gotten rid of Stepp but taken our time and saved the district some money. A few extra monthsnwould have been fine. The school Board must go. They could be the worst in the County and that includes Cloverleaf who only does what the state says. I would gladly trade Medinau2019s for at least 3 orn4 others who actually seem to do their jobs and do not mail it in. I would likento know what Randyu2019s evaluations were right up until February. That would beninteresting. I sure hope Karla can explain this to me because she seems tonenjoy talking down to people and I fully expect Susan to get all emotional andnsay she did not know it wasnu2019t in the best interest of the kids. Get real! Ifnignorance is bliss you should be very happy! Those two need to go now!

  • si

    How long are we going to let this board waste our money? They are all morons, also I would like to know who gave them the legal advice to rescind the contract. First why do it when he is in the middle of a audit that could lead to legal charges (however I feel that is doubtful)? Second, the board broke the law in terms of the sunshine laws, Stepp did not break the law in terms of sunshine laws, because they are a set of laws for the board not for the super. Just because they broke the law when they signed the contract does not make the contract void, the judge will say they have to have a legal meeting and sign it. nnSo I guess what I am saying is they proved their stupidy 3-fold by A. giving him the contract. B. Doing so while ignoring the sunshine laws. And C. rescinding a contract that obviously was going to lead to a losing court battle. Why is everyone up in arms with Stepp when the people that hired him are still wasting money? Stepp accepted a contract, why not the hostility towards those that gave it to him?nnI am not saying stepp acted smart, but he is going to be one wealthy man. nnTime for a new board.

  • BrunswickMom

    As much as everyone hates Randy Stepp’s contract, ultimately it was the Board’s decision to accept or reject. Anyone in his position would negotiate the best deal for himself and family, it’s up to the Board to do their research and counter-offer. They were lazy and just signed off on it because it was the easy way out…until the hit the fan and the public found out about his agreement. It sounds to me like he has alot of backup written correspondence to support his suit. Ultimately what will happen is he will win, Medina will foot the bill for his attorney fees, past education, bonus, compensation and he will walk away and get another high paying job somewhere else. Lose-Lose for Medina.

  • ArabellaC

    It’s not “an argument” It’s what the law states! How are you not understanding this still?nnIt’s not an opinion, an argument, an idea……IT’S THE FREAKING LAW. The LAW says the contract was never legal. I never said it was about what’s fair or unfair-that seems to be what YOU are basing this on! It IS based on legal or illegal, AND FOR THE MILLIONTH TIME-The contract was not legal!nn”Any action taken by a public body while that body is in violation of the Open Meetings Act is invalid. R.C. 121.22(H).”

  • Medina retiree

    Just follow my hand-signs:nLegality of the contract is BoE’s problem. Whoever violated the law will pay up, i.e. BoE will have to pay, because it was BoE’s actions, which were illegal, not Stepp’s.nThe court will look at the case, determine that BoE violated your beloved R.C. 121.22(H) and will order BoE to pay for damages, in this case – lost past and future income, legal fees and punitive damages. nI am surprised, that it is YOU, who does not understand, that excuse like “while I was robbing the bank I was driving a stolen car, hence I should be excused from robbery charges” is ridiculous beyond sanity.nAnd in any case, even if the new contract will be found null and void, then it will mean, that the old contract is in effect (on which Stepp has 1 more year to go). BoE will have to pay that in full + all the damages for sure, no sane court will let them off the hook. Besides, Stepp did the smart thing – he filed in Federal court, which doesn’t care about in-state politics, connections and all R.C. on the book, as long as federal laws are observed. And BoE has zero chance convincing a federal court, that some obscure Ohio R.C. procedural rule should supersede federal employment laws. Good luck with that BoE.

  • So

    He was not violation of the sunshine laws… The board was. Everyone is so caught up on what he had in his contract, how is that his fault? The board has the responsibly to offer contracts in line with the vision of the community, they failed to do that, how is that stepps fault?

  • Truth Sayer

    Yep, you are right. He is unquestionably not liked, but he has proven that the board are mental lightweights. . As, how could the board not know the amount agreed in the contract. Especially when Stepp have e-mails of the discussions. The bottom line: Stepp snookered the board, and the citizens will pay will pay for the boards stupidity. The citizens of Medina, schools need to vote on a levy just to get rid of him

  • Truth Sayer

    You have stated the unadulterated truth. As you said, all the negative comments about Randy will only aid his legal case. Considering his age and earning potential, it may be quite pricy to conclude and close this matter. I wish every Medina School voter would read your summation of the state of the issues as they actually exist, as opposed to their idealistic or notional ideals.

  • Truth Sayer

    Stating that Heather is u201cso delusionalu2019 is a classic example of argumentum ad hominem. Firstly, the Sunshine law is applicable to the actions of the Board in this case, as Randy Stepp is the employee. Therefore, whatever contractual agreements he makes with the School Board does not have to be divulged by him. But it is required of the Board. Secondly, it may be arduous for you to understand, but Steppu2019s knowledge of the school system finances have no bearing on the facts surrounding this case. Though its an excellent point that should be made to the School Boardu2019s regarding their wayward spending approval methods. The most logical posting in my opinion was made by Ohioguy10 above. A good read.