August 20, 2014

Medina
Thunderstorms
66°F

Medina school board: Interim Superintendent David Knight is our man

The Medina school board is moving to drop the “interim” from David Knight’s job title. Knight, a retired Sidney Fenn Elementary School principal, was hired as interim superintendent after Superintendent Randy Stepp was placed on administrative leave April 8, 2013, pending completion of a special state audit into his spending of district funds from a “carryover” fund held at the Medina City Schools’ Educational Service Center.

Earlier this month, the school board indicated it likely would suspend the search for a permanent replacement for Stepp, whom the board voted to fire in October after a special state audit reported $4,121 in illegal spending by Stepp and $1.5 million that was either not properly documented or had an unclear purpose.

Knight, David

Dave Knight

Board President Tom Cahalan said Knight has earned the right to keep the job and has agreed to a 15-month contract that provides an annual salary of $102,500.

“He’s been doing the job of superintendent for all intents and purposes,” Cahalan said.

“He has goals and wants to reach out to the community; both the board and school district are headed in the right direction.

“He deserves to not be ‘interim’ anymore.”

Knight said he appreciates the support of the board members. He said he never expected to serve in the position as long as he has.

“Now that I’ve gotten into the role, I see the needs of the district and I think I can be of service, so I agreed to continue on,” Knight said.

The school board is expected to approve the contact at its next meeting, April 21.

The board and Knight could continue the contract, which would expire in July 2015, for an additional two years if both parties are willing.

Both parties would be required inform the other by January if they planned to terminate the contract in July.

The contract provides no additional benefits beside 25 days of vacation with an option to buy back 10 days.

“It’s a skeleton contract really,” Cahalan said. “It’s two pages and it essentially just says we’re both happy to be in business together.”

Cahalan said the district is getting a bargain because Knight is retired and collects a state pension and is willing to forgo the perks commonly found in superintendents’ contracts.

“Compared to hiring another superintendent this is quite a discount,” Cahalan said.

Knight already has given the district a break. When he was hired as interim superintendent, the position was expected to be part-time, paying $37.50 an hour. But at his first board meeting, Knight asked for a pay cut to $30 per hour.

Medina City Teacher’s Association John Leatherman said teachers are happy to see Knight’s position made permanent.

“He’s always been an out of the box thinker and I’m sure we’ll get big things,” Leatherman said. “I’m elated the board didn’t look further beyond our own front porch because there’s something great right here.”

Leatherman said the draft contract was easy to understand and seemed reasonable for a superintendent’s salary.

Stepp’s final contract, approved in January 2013, provided for $186,000 in wages, bonuses, allowances and other fringe benefits and an $83,000 signing bonus.

Following a furious public reaction, the school board voted to rescind Stepp’s contract shortly after placing him on paid leave, saying it violated Ohio’s Sunshine Laws because the contact was not properly publicized.

None of the five board members who voted for the contract are still on the board — three resigned, one retired and the fifth declined to run for re-election in November.

Stepp has gone to court to fight his firing, the rescinding of his contact and the results of the special audit. He also has refused to pay back the signing bonus.

Stepp has returned $3,725 in vacation pay that a regular annual state audit found was incorrectly paid him for unused vacation pay in 2012.

Knight said the district is beginning to recover from the turmoil that surrounded Stepp.

In November, voters approved a five-year, 5.9-mill levy that restored busing and forestalled the threatened closing of Heritage Elementary School.

“If you look at the things that have occurred over the years, our district and board have been in reactionary mode so many times out of necessity,” Knight said. “I’m trying to bring in stability and try to bring in a proactive attitude instead of reactionary.”

<em>Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or <a href=”emailto://lgenson@medina-gazette.com”>lgenson@medina-gazette.com</a>.</em>