October 25, 2014

Medina
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Medina Schools: Superintendent Randy Stepp is gone but lawsuits remain

Randy Stepp

Randy Stepp

MEDINA — While there is no indication the resignation of former Medina Schools Superintendent Randy Stepp will have any effect on his lawsuits against the district winding their way through the courts, one thing is clear — both sides are saving money as a result of his action.

The school board voted to fire Stepp in October, sparking what was expected to be a lengthy hearing process guided by state rules that govern the termination of school administrators. That process was cut short Monday when the board accepted his resignation.

Warren Rosman, legal counsel for the school district, wouldn’t speculate on what motivated Stepp to hand in his resignation, but said the action is a positive one for the school district.

“It’s likely saving the district anywhere from $20,000 to $25,000,” he said.

Proceedings to contest a termination are quasi-judicial and require the hiring of a court reporter and parties on both sides are typically represented by legal counsel during the proceedings. Often the outcome of the district hearings is appealed to the county common pleas court, where Stepp already has cases pending.

Rosman said the resignation won’t stop the court cases pending in both federal and common pleas courts from moving forward. Actions from the two judges overseeing the cases show mediation attempts have failed.

Stepp was placed on administrative leave in April 2013, pending the completion of a special state audit into his spending of district funds from a “carryover” fund at the Medina County Schools’ Educational Services Center. The board also voted to rescind a contract it approved for Stepp in January 2013, saying the contract was approved without proper publicity and in violation of open meetings laws.

In May 2013, Stepp filed a lawsuit in federal court charging board members with breach of contract, defamation and invasion of privacy.

On April 11, notes of a status conference on the case indicated that an attempt to settle the case was unsuccessful. On April 18, federal Judge William Baughman Jr. put into place a timeline for the two parties to complete their discovery so the case could move closer to a trial.

In October, the school board moved to fire Stepp after a state audit revealed $4,121 in illegal spending and more than $1.5 million that was either not properly documented or had an “unclear” purpose. Stepp filed suit against the board and state Auditor Dave Yost on Nov. 13, alleging that the audit was not conducted properly.

In addition to that case, Stepp has two other cases pending in Medina County Common Pleas Court. On Nov. 26, the school board filed suit against Stepp to reclaim the $4,121 the audit reported he owed the district. Also in November, Medina attorney J.R. Russell filed a motion to intervene in the case against the school board and Yost filed by Stepp earlier in the month. Russell filed an initial suit in July 2013 against the school board and Stepp asking that Stepp’s contract be declared invalid because of the open meetings laws violations by the board.

Russell also has filed a motion to intervene with his complaint in the pending federal case. His motions to intervene were both supported by the Medina school board.

Russell’s suit along with the ones filed by Stepp and the school board are being heard by visiting common pleas Judge Thomas Pokorny.

Pokorny urged Stepp and the district to work toward mediation on the three pending cases and issued a stay on court proceedings in all three cases. In February, he extended the stay until April 17, to give the two parties more time to work toward mediation. But after meeting with attorneys from both sides on April 17, he issued a timeline to move the case forward and withdrew his stay order.
According to a schedule laid out in an order by Pokorny dated April 17, briefs will be due by the end of the year and a trial date for the three cases has been set for Feb. 2, 2015.

In his resignation letter, Stepp said the board made it clear it has no intention of reinstating him.

“You have left me no choice,” Stepp wrote. Stepp would not elaborate on why he resigned and his attorney did not return calls seeking comment.
But news of Stepp’s resignation did elicit a response from Medina teachers.

Medina City Teachers Association President John Leatherman said teachers “couldn’t be more excited” about Stepp’s replacement, Dave Knight.

“Personally, I was glad to see Mr. Stepp resigned,” Leatherman said. “It might be the first rational decision he has made for the best interest of the district and the community in the last 15 months.”

Leatherman lamented that the court cases will continue to drag on despite the resignation.

“I can only hope he comes to the same conclusion on the remaining litigation,” he said.

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com. Follow her @lorengenson on Twitter.