June 28, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Petition seeks ouster of board members

A Medina resident and creator of the “Medina City Schools Outrage” Facebook page is leading a petition drive calling for the resignations of two board members saying it’s the only way to pass a levy on the November ballot.

“It’s a symbolic gesture,” Mark Kuhar said. “We’re hoping to demonstrate that enough people would consider voting for a levy if they felt like the board was in good hands.”

Lori Berger, a special education teacher at Heritage Elementary School, called on board members Karla Robinson and Susan Vlcek during Monday's board meetingto resign if they expect to pass a levy. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY KIERA MANION-FISCHER)

The board approved an initial resolution Monday to place a five-year, 5.9-mill levy on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The petition asks for resignations from Board President Karla Robinson and Boardmember Susan Vlcek, who are not up for election in November. The other three board positions will be on the ballot.

As of Wednesday night, the petition had gathered 115 signatures and Kuhar’s Facebook page had collected about 1,700 supporters.

Kuhar said he decided to start the petition drive because Ohio law does not allow school board members to be recalled through an initiative process. They can be removed from office but only if a complaint is filed with the county court signed by residents representing at least 15 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the school district.

“From what I understand, it could be a costly legal endeavor to get somebody forcibly removed from that position,” Kuhar said.

Kuhar said he would present the petition at the next board meeting.

Robinson responded Wednesday to the petition with a written statement, saying she intends to remain on the board through the remainder of her term, which ends in 2015, but would not seek re-election.

“I understand the dissatisfaction and anger that many people have with decisions this board has made,” she wrote. “I have read the emails, listened to the public comments, read the letters to the editor, and taken many meetings with concerned citizens. But the needs of this district require a board that is not composed of five new members without experience and knowledge, to lead us through the levy and beyond.”

On Wednesday, Vlcek sidestepped the question whether she would resign.

“I’ve had the honor to serve on this board for many years and I think in order to be a good leader, you’re always evaluating your impact on the district,” she said. “I’ve done that every year and I will continue to do the same.”

Vlcek voiced regret about public criticism of the board, but stopped short of a full apology.

“I couldn’t be sorrier to be part of any decision that has taken even one moment of focus away from the great work that people in Medina City Schools do,” she said. “My passion for public education is what brought me here and what’s keeping me here.”

Kuhar started the Medina City Schools Outrage page in March after details of Superintendent Randy Stepp’s contract became public, including an $83,000 signing bonus.

Since then, the controversy has grown as details of other benefits provided by earlier contracts became public, including paying more than a quarter of a million dollars for Stepp’s college degrees.

Robinson said the board has taken many actions in the past three months responding to the controversy:

• Calling for a state audit of Stepp’s spending from the Educational Service Center carryover fund, which was used to make the educational payments.

• Placing Stepp on paid administrative leave.

• Rescinding his latest contract.

• Pulling the May levy from the ballot.

• Hiring David Knight as interim superintendent and asking him to communicate to the public exactly what would happen if the levy passes or fails.

If passed by voters, the levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $181 a year. The levy will generate about $6.6 million a year in revenue.

If the levy fails, Knight told the school board that plans call for closing Heritage Elementary School and convert the traditional neighborhood schools to “banded elementary schools,” with each school holding no more than three grade levels.

Under the plan, two of the district’s elementary schools would be pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade, two would be grades two and three and the remaining two schools would contain grades four and five.

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