June 27, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Letter: Stepp broke promise (Updated with full text of letter)

Full text of Stepp termination letter

Kiera Manion-Fischer | The Gazette

Three years before he was placed on leave, Medina Schools Superintendent Randy Stepp reneged on a promise to forego a raise for earning a doctorate, according to the school board.

The allegation is one of two new claims listed in a letter detailing 13 specific reasons why the board voted Oct. 28 to begin the process of firing Stepp.

Board President Karla Robinson said she would not discuss the specifics of the letter, which was sent to Stepp’s home Thursday by certified mail.

“We’ve been strictly advised by counsel not to make any comments about this,” she said.

Michael Matasich, one of Stepp’s attorneys, said Stepp had not received the letter yet, so he was not in a position to respond, and Stepp did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Most of the items listed as “grounds for termination” in the letter are related to a special state audit of a “carryover fund” held by the Medina County Schools’ Educational Service Center and his use of a district-owned credit card.

The audit found Stepp illegally spent $4,121, which must be repaid, a half-million dollars in spending from the ESC fund where “the item’s proper public purpose was unclear” and nearly $1 million spent without proper authorization of the district.

The letter cites as an example of spending “far beyond the scope of the Board’s authorization and in amounts not disclosed to the Board” payments totaling $172,011 to pay off Stepp’s old college loans.

The loans were for Stepp’s bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate from Ashland University and a master’s in business administration from Case Western Reserve University.

While Stepp’s contracts obligated the board to pay for the cost of his “past academic degrees,” the board’s letter charges Stepp “failed to provide adequate documentation to support this expenditure after being requested to do so.”

The letter said Stepp’s conduct, “once discovered, has resulted in what you knew or should have known would be a level of shock, dismay, and distrust within the community that would reflect adversely on the District and be highly disruptive of District and community relationships.”

The letter also cites Stepp for failing to return the remaining $82,017 of his $83,000 “retention bonus” paid to Stepp as part of his controversial contract approved in January by the board.

Publicity about the contract in early March set off a firestorm of public criticism of Stepp and the board.

In response, Stepp announced he would return the bonus and forego promised merit raises. After making repayments of about $1,000, he revoked the offer, filing a lawsuit in federal court in May charging the board with breach of contract, defamation and invasion of privacy.

The letter also included a new charge — that Stepp also had “knowingly misrepresented to the Board, on or about June of 2010, the circumstances surrounding a 1.5% pay increment for attaining your Ph.D. degree, which you indicated to the Board you would not accept, but thereafter specifically directed the Treasurer to include in your compensation.”

The second new allegation contained in the letter is a claim that Stepp violated the terms of his paid administrative leave, which began April 8, “by accessing and altering the operation of a web-based media account maintained by the district.”

School officials declined to explain further.

While on paid leave, Stepp was told not to go on school property or communicate with district employees or parents.

The letter charges Stepp “inappropriately communicated with district parents and others concerning matters relating to your employment in the District.”

Stepp responded to being placed on leave by sending out a message from his personal email account to area news media and parents minutes before the start of the press conference announcing the board’s action.

“I feel the time has come to set the record straight and address the growing number of inaccuracies surrounding my contract and its provisions, which have always been unanimously approved by the board,” Stepp said in the four-page email.

The letter is another step in the lengthy termination process for superintendents outlined in Ohio law. After Stepp gets the letter, he has an opportunity to have a hearing in which both he and the board will present their cases to a neutral hearing officer.

Both Stepp and the board can appeal the hearing officer’s recommendation to Medina County Common Pleas Court.

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