To see a statement from the Medina school board, click here.
Kiera Manion-Fischer and Loren Genson | The Gazette
The Medina school board voted unanimously Thursday to begin the process to fire Superintendent Randy Stepp. The vote came after a two-hour executive session.
“This decision is really based upon the conclusion of a long process of research, and especially with regard to the results of the audit that we received this week,” board President Karla Robinson said.
The other four board members declined to comment on the advice of the school district’s legal counsel.
“This was not an easy decision to make,” Robinson said. “I know some in the community may have wondered why we didn’t do this more quickly, but we really needed to allow due process to take place; we needed to allow the audit results to come in.
“That’s why we’re acting now.”
Stepp will be notified of the board’s decision today. He could not be reached for comment Thursday night.
Robinson said Stepp will have the opportunity to come before her and board Vice President Susan Vlcek and argue the case for why he should not be terminated.
“The board takes that information into consideration and makes a decision,” Robinson said. “If we decide to go forth with termination, we would immediately suspend Dr. Stepp without pay and we would begin the process as outlined in the Ohio Revised Code.”
Robinson said the full board could take that action at a special 3 p.m. meeting Monday at the school board offices, 140 W. Washington St.
If the board votes to proceed with the firing, Stepp has the right to a quasi-judicial hearing during which both he and the school district can present evidence.
In Ohio, the termination proceedings of administrative personnel are overseen by a neutral party, who will make a recommendation to the board. The board can either accept the recommendation or appeal it to Medina County Common Pleas Court.
Robinson said the hearing process takes a few months. “It’s a fairly lengthy, convoluted process.”
The board vote to begin the firing processes came two days after a special state audit, requested by the school board, found Stepp misspent at least $4,121 in district money that must be repaid.
Additionally, the auditor found that nearly $947,128 kept in a “carryover fund” held by the Medina County Schools’ Educational Service Center was spent without proper authorization by the school district.
The audit also stated that a “proper public purpose was unclear” for more than half a million of that money.
Brittany Halpin, a spokeswoman for state Auditor Dave Yost’s office, said the “findings for recovery” of the misspent funds were referred to both the county prosecutor and the city law director.
The public uproar over Stepp’s superintendent’s contract has resulted in changes in the school board: Only three of the five members who voted to approve a new five-year contract for Stepp in January, which included an $83,000 signing bonus, remain in office.
Board member Dr. Robert Wilder retired in February and board President Charles Freeman resigned in March.
Board member Bill Grenfell is not seeking re-election and his term expires at the end of the year.
Both Robinson and Vlcek announced last month they will step down next year to allow the three members elected in November to replace them.
School board members said they did not know the full cost of the benefits provided by Stepp’s contract, including more than a quarter-million dollars to pay off Stepp’s old college loans.
The board placed Stepp on paid leave April 8, pending the outcome of the state audit, and rescinded his new contact a week later.
Stepp responded May 17 with a lawsuit in federal court.
On Thursday, Medina County Teachers Association President John Leatherman said he was pleased with the board’s vote to terminate Stepp, but is looking forward to the election of new board members next month.
“When I still think back to how it all started with a secret board meeting and minutes that were given to me that didn’t show the change in his contract, there were reasons why we had to have a change,” Leatherman said.
Leatherman and other community members pushed for Stepp’s resignation along with that of other board members as the money spent by Stepp was uncovered.
“I do applaud what they did tonight, and with them being sued I know it doesn’t make their life easier,” he said. “I think it was a courageous last move for the outgoing board members and I think the community will appreciate it.”
Medina resident Mark Kuhar, who started the Medina City Schools Outrage Page on Facebook, said the board made the right decision in moving to fire Stepp.
“I think it helps the Medina City School District move forward to get past everything that went on,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s one of the big hurdles that the board has had to overcome in bringing back community trust.”
Kuhar urged the community to support the district’s 5.9-mill, five-year levy on the Nov. 5 ballot.
“I think the community needs to look at this and say the district is making the right moves,” he said. “A vote for the levy is warranted at this point.”
Lori Berger, special education teacher at Heritage Elementary School, which is scheduled to close if the levy fails, said she was “thrilled” by the board’s action Thursday.
“I mean, I think it’s the final push that I think we’ll be able to pass this levy because a lot of people were looking at it as he was just milking the district,” she said.