June 25, 2016

Mostly clear

Medina Schools: Board members must pay own fees at conference

MEDINA — Interim Superintendent Dave Knight has told Medina school board members they must pay for their own hotels and food during this year’s Ohio School Board Association Conference in Columbus.

“The district is planning on paying for your registration fee, but not your accommodations or your food,” Knight said during Monday’s board meeting.

David Knight

Susan Vlcek

The conference is Nov. 10 to 13. Knight said he came up with the idea in response to public concern over past district spending for professional development.

“In the past, maybe it wasn’t watched as closely as it should be,” he said. “We are watching how we are spending money.”

Knight said the cost to the district to pay the conference registration fee for six or more people would be $1,650. He said he hoped the three board members who will be elected in November could plan to attend.

“In the past, we have always gone down there,” he said. “It’s a time for board members, especially new board members, to attend training sessions.”

Also in November, the school board will ask voters to approve a five-year, 5.9-mill levy that would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $206 annually.

Board member Susan Vlcek disagreed with Knight, arguing that making board members pay their expenses would limit the number of people who could afford to run for the school board.

“I’ve heard people say they would like to see diversity on the board,” she said. “We ask a lot of anybody who is going to sit on one of these seats. I couldn’t really endorse this as a practice going into the future.

Vlcek said the district should be encouraging board members to attend the conference.

“It’s a big investment to take one or two, possibly three days off work and not get paid for it, and possibly incur our own expenses,” she said.

School board members are paid $250 per month — $125 for each of two regular meetings each month — and donate 20 percent of their pay back to the district.

Under Ohio law, school board members cannot be paid more.

Board member Bill Grenfell said he would designate his 20 percent donation to pay the hotel and food expenses for Andrew Shea, the board’s nonvoting student representative.

The district has been subject to increased public scrutiny of its finances after the board approved a new contract for Superintendent Randy Stepp in January that included an $83,000 signing bonus.

The controversy grew, fueled by the disclosure that Stepp’s earlier contracts paid for more than a quarter-million dollars of educational expenses for old college loans. The payments were made with district money in a “carryover” fund held by the Medina County Schools’ Educational Service Center.

The fund contains money left over after the district has paid for services such as nursing and bus driver training from the Educational Service Center.

At Monday’s meeting, the board approved a resolution asking the Educational Service Center to return to the district $191,775.98 from this year’s carryover fund. That would leave a balance of $25,000 to start the new school year.

Board President Karla Robinson said funds paid to the Educational Service Center only would be used for its services, per changes in board procedure in March.

Stepp was placed on paid leave April 8, pending the outcome of a special audit by Ohio State Auditor Dave Yost examining Stepp’s use of the carryover fund. Two weeks later, the board voted to rescind Stepp’s contract.

Stepp responded in May by suing the school board in federal court. The board has countersued, demanding the $83,000 bonus be returned.

The board asked the auditor in late May to expand the scope of the audit to include one month — Nov. 10 to Dec. 10, 2007 — of expenses from an American Express credit card Stepp was issued by the district.

School officials have declined to say why the audit was expanded.

A December 2007 billing statement contained $5,276.36 in charges. All but $524.09 of the charges were for 13 rooms booked at the Capital Square Hyatt Hotel in Columbus for Nov. 11 to 14, the dates of that year’s annual Ohio School Board Association conference.

The only other charges on the December credit card statement were a Dec. 5 charge for $88.49 from the Blue Heron restaurant and a $435.60 charge for a Columbus Hyatt hotel Dec. 6.

Robinson has said she does not know when the audit will be completed.

In other action, the board approved a resolution saying both regular meetings and work sessions would take place at 6:30 p.m. in Medina High School’s distance learning lab.

The work sessions now will be recorded and televised within three business days.

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