June 30, 2016

Partly sunny

Medina levy unites strange bedfellows

Levy backers in Medina Schools are receiving support from one of the district’s biggest critics.

The newly formed Kids First Medina encompasses three groups — volunteers from Friends of Medina City Schools who worked on previous levy campaigns, supporters of Medina City Schools Place for Positivity Facebook page and leaders behind the Medina City Schools Outrage Facebook page.

Kids First organizers hope to bring the distinct groups together as the district heads toward a fall levy campaign for the 10-year, 5.9-mill emergency levy on the Nov. 5 ballot.

“All of our groups, we thought we were on a different page,” said Bridgid Turrittin, chairwoman of Kids First who also served as chairwoman of former levy campaigns. “But when we sat down and talked to each other, we all wanted the same thing. We all want to hold the schools accountable and do what’s right for the community. We realized how much more similar we were than how different we were.”

The Place for Positivity group was created to highlight the work of teachers, students and staff in the school district.

The Outrage page, created on Facebook this spring by resident and parent Mark Kuhar, has been critical of board of education members who oversee school district finances.

Kuhar and other residents have spoken out at public meetings against the contract board members awarded to Superintendent Randy Stepp in January. The five-year contract included an $83,000 signing bonus.

As outrage grew over the contract, residents learned through Gazette stories that the district also spent more than $250,000 on Stepp’s college loans for his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in education, and a master of business administration degree from Case Western Reserve University.

Stepp is on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of a special state audit over his use of the district’s “carryover fund” held by the Medina County Schools’ Educational Service Center.

The Outrage page became a sounding board for parents and community members who have called for no new levies until the board gets its finances in line.

But Kuhar said there are members of his outrage page who do support the levy.

“It includes people who don’t want a levy passed, some who will support it with changes, and some of whom are very willing to support a levy,” Kuhar said. “I support a levy. I would support a levy more if two people stepped down from the board.”

Kuhar and other members of the Outrage page have called on Susan Vlcek and board President Karla Robinson to step down.

Shortly after the contract was approved, the board had to fill two vacancies on the five-member board. Dr. Robert Wilder, who retired, was replaced by Tom Cahalan; Charles Freeman, who resigned, was replaced by Doug Adamczyk.

Board member Bill Grenfell is not seeking re-election in November. Vlcek and Robinson are not up for re-election this year.

Seven people, including Cahalan and Adamczyk, have filed to run for three seats on the ballot.

“There are still some questions out there about this school district’s direction,” Kuhar said.

But he and campaign chairwoman Turrittin said there is some common ground. Both agreed that changes in how money is spent and a financial oversight committee that includes community members is a step in the right direction.

“We’ve seen some changes already, and after the election, the majority of the board will be new members,” Turrittin said. “So we really want to pull together as a community right now and focus on moving Medina forward.”

A successful levy campaign should include not just supporters, but also those who are lukewarm to a levy, Turrittin said.

“The more people the merrier,” she said. “The one positive I really believe in this whole mess (is) so many people are involved in what’s going on in the schools. People are now listening and people are now communicating.”

Kids First Medina County plans to launch its website in the next few days at

www.kidsfirstmedina.com. The group’s Facebook page is Kids First Medina.

A fundraising event is scheduled for 7 to 10 p.m. Aug. 23 at Fox Meadow Country Club. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at the door. The event will include appetizers, a cash bar, and entertainment from Skinny Moo and high school groups The Churchills and The Sirens.

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.

Loren Genson About Loren Genson

Loren Genson was The Gazette's senior reporter. From August 2012 through September 2015, she covered Brunswick city and state and national government. To contact The Gazette, call the managing editor at (330) 721-4065.