June 30, 2016

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Stepp defends spending, denies improper use of ESC fund

To see Wednesday’s story about a Medina School Board press conference, click here.

To see complete text of Randy Stepp’s response to the special audit report, click here

Kiera Manion-Fischer and Loren Genson | The Gazette

Medina Schools Superintendent Randy Stepp denies improperly spending district money in a point-by-point rebuttal of a special state audit released Tuesday.

A team of examiners from Auditor David Yost’s office flagged $4,121 in payments directed by Stepp as “illegally expended” and ordered the money repaid.

Randy Stepp

In response, Stepp’s attorneys issued a news release later Tuesday stating, “Dr. Stepp had a clear and documented public purpose for every expenditure made during his tenure as superintendent.”

The statement also said Stepp “has stated from the day he was placed on leave that if he has done anything in error while leading the Medina City School District he is willing to make it right.”

The attorneys also listed explanations Stepp sent to the auditor’s office addressing the findings for recovery listed in the audit.

Stepp said $2,310 in gift cards to local restaurants and specialty food stores were expended on staff during holiday dinners in 2007 and 2011.

Stepp said the cards were awarded “to the spouses/significant others of the Board of Education members, administrators and instructional staff at the 2007 holiday recognition dinner” and were given out to improve morale and develop a working relationship between the board and administrative team.

“The purchase of small tokens of appreciation, such as gift cards, are in furtherance of the Board’s policies authorizing and encouraging such activities,” Stepp said in his statement.

In his statement, he defended a $277 seat upgrade charge during a flight to China because he was working on district business during the flight.

The China trip was part of educational expenses for his MBA at Case Western Reserve University. The district paid more than $94,000 for his degree and expenses related to the degree. The $277 seat upgrade was the only cost associated with Stepp’s MBA that was flagged by the auditor.

Stepp also defended a $1,023 mileage reimbursement for driving to Florida with his family to attend a National School Board Association Conference. In the audit, auditors mentioned that other board members flew to the conference for $284.

Stepp said he was pressured by the board to attend the conference.

“My family and I reluctantly agreed,” he said.

Stepp blamed the high travel expenses on the last-minute decision to attend, saying there was no cheap airfare available.

He did not offer an explanation for his $557 hotel stay on April 2, 2008. The audit found the conference ended April 1.

Stepp also defended $87 spent on candy and flowers for the staff at Northrop Elementary School in 2011. He said he was serving as interim principal at the school while the district searched for a replacement.

“The flowers and candy were designed to lift spirits, facilitate the healing process, and bring the employees and administrators closer together, which enhances morale and rapport and encourages employee retention,” he said.

Stepp also stated that $151 for candles from Medina-based Root Candles were given as gifts to office staff members at the 2012 holiday dinner.

Stepp said the items were given to “reward and thank them for their service, to boost morale and rapport, and to encourage staff retention.”

He said the money came from a $1,000 donation to the district for the dinner, and did not come from taxpayer funds.

Contact reporter Kiera Manion-Fischer at (330) 721-4049 or kfischer@medina-gazette.com. Contact Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.

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The Gazette is Medina County's daily local news source, serving the community since 1832. Contact The Gazette's news department at (330) 721-4065 or areanews@medina-gazette.com.