July 2, 2016

Partly cloudy

BREAKING: Vlcek, Robinson to resign from Medina school board

Click here to read statements from Robinson and Vlcek

Medina school board President Karla Robinson and board member Susan Vlcek have announced plans to resign from the board next year. They both were elected to four-year terms in 2011.

Vlcek said she will step down in January and Robinson said she will resign, effective May 31.

Karla Robinson

Susan Vlcek

In a statement posted on the school district’s website, Robinson said Vlcek wanted to wait until after the November election so the three new board members could select a replacement.

“Susan and I do not claim to have done all of this perfectly,” Robinson said in the posted statement. “We have stumbled along the way. I am very sorry for every mistake I’ve made as a board member. But the task was and remains immense: please recall that this district has not passed an operating levy since 2005. Our issues as a district and a community predate this controversy, and will take time and energy to get past.”

Vlcek has served on the board since 1999 and Robinson was elected in November 2011. Their terms would have ended in 2015.

Both board members have faced repeated calls from community members to resign after a community backlash to their approval in January of a new contract for Superintendent Randy Stepp that included an $83,000 signing bonus.

The public outcry over the contract grew following a series of Gazette stories detailing how the district 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.

Vlcek and Robinson are the second and third board members to cite the controversy as their reason for quitting. In March, then-board President Charles Freeman resigned, blaming “the events of the past few weeks.”

In April, the board placed Stepp on paid administrative leave, pending the outcome of a special state audit requested by the school district into Stepp’s spending from a “carryover” fund held by the Medina County Schools’ Educational Service Center.

That same month, the school board rescinded Stepp’s contract. Stepp responded with a lawsuit filed in federal court.

The latest resignations mean all five board members who approved Stepp’s contact will be out of office by the end of this school year.

Board member Bill Grenfell has said he would not seek re-election in November. The other two seats up for election Nov. 5 are held by Tom Cahalan, who was appointed to fill out the unexpired term of Dr. Robert Wilder, who retired, and Doug Adamczyk, who was appointed to replace Freeman.

When reached for comment, Robinson said, “The conversation in the community needs to start being about: ‘What do we want for the future of public education for our students?” she said. “It needs to stop being about the board.”

Vlcek said she was quitting in hopes the public would focus on the long-term “big picture.”

“It’s really just based on moving the community forward, and focused on the long-term vision and not short term issues,” she said. “The big picture is that the school district has always been progressive and has always been held in high regard across the state of Ohio. We have always been cutting edge in our curriculum and our collaboration.”

The board is in the middle of a campaign for a five-year, 5.9-mill operating levy, which will be on the Nov. 5 ballot.

If the levy is approved, the district would add reading, gifted intervention and guidance counselors at the elementary level, as well as more art, music and gym classes. There would be more opportunities for high school electives, and the levy would bring back busing for all students who live a mile or more from their school.

The levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $206 a year.

The board appointed interim Superintendent Dave Knight, a former elementary school principal, to replace Stepp pending the outcome of the special audit.

Knight said the impact of the resignations on the levy vote is difficult to predict.

“I would really hope that people would vote for the levy because they see the value of programming that will be added to the immediate direct benefit of children, and the long-term benefit of the community,” he said.

If the levy fails, Knight said plans call for closing Heritage Elementary School in 2014 and creating “banded” elementary schools with two grades at each building; eliminating middle school sports and extracurricular activities; and reducing electives at Medina High School.

Medina resident Mark Kuhar, who started the Medina City Schools Outrage Page in March to protest Stepp’s contract, described the resignation plans as “a positive development for the Medina City School District.”

“For the past six months, many people who have actively participated in discussions on the Medina City Schools Outrage Page on Facebook have pressured them to step down,” he said. “I want to thank Karla Robinson and Susan Vlcek for doing what is best for our students, parents, taxpayers, schools and the entire community.”

Brigid Turrittin, co-chair of Kids First Medina, the levy campaign organization, said she also wanted to thank both Robinson and Vlcek for their service and dedication to the schools.

Turrittin said, though, that the “No. 1 objection” she heard from those who didn’t support the levy was that Robinson and Vlcek remained on the board.

“I really look at it as there are no more excuses,” she said. “This was the big excuse. There is going to be an entire new board. The fiscal responsibility has changed.”

John Leatherman, president of the Medina City Teachers Association, said many teachers and community members had called on Robinson and Vlcek to resign.

“When the members of MCTA voted to ratify a non-lucrative contract in the midst of this scandal, we did it for the kids and community,” he said. “I hope that these resignations continue to rebuild the trust with the citizens in our school district. Perhaps enough trust to consider a vote in favor of keeping neighborhood schools in the great community of Medina in November.”

Lori Berger, a special education teacher at Heritage Elementary, who called for Robinson and Vlcek to resign during a June 17 board meeting, expressed gratitude.

“I’m glad that they are doing it,” she said. “They seem to understand what the community wants.” Berger, who has a 9-year-old son at Heritage, said she hoped that even though the resignations are not immediate, voters would look past that and vote for the levy.

“The desired resignations are going to take place,” she said. “I think we ought to look at it that way now.”

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