Medina City Schools Superintendent Randy Stepp was put on paid leave Monday as the Ohio Auditor’s Office investigates his possible misuse of tax dollars.
Board President Karla Robinson stressed during a news conference Monday afternoon that removing Stepp was not a disciplinary action but rather standard procedure during any investigation of an administrator.
The state’s investigation, which Robinson estimates could conclude by the end of May, comes at the same time the district is asking taxpayers to approve a 5.9-mill levy. The proposed tax increase would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $15 a month over the next 10 years.
Some voters aren’t waiting for the investigation to end before drawing their own conclusions.
“I’m certainly going to vote no,” said Medina resident Penney Lewis, who does not have children attending Medina City Schools.
Lewis is appalled at the board’s earlier vote to reimburse Stepp $265,000 for his college education and a $83,000 bonus. The bonus was awarded earlier this year when the board opted to renegotiate the superintendent’s contract, which would have expired in 2014.
“I just look at the $85,000 and wonder what it could have done in the district,” said Heather Davis, who has a child in the school district. She too plans to vote against the levy.
Davis and Lewis attended Monday’s news conference.
Robinson paused when asked how the community would respond to the board’s handling of Stepp’s contract and questions raised over the superintendent’s use of funds set aside in a county account for educational services.
“It’s a very difficult question ... this controversy. This difficult situation has not changed the need that our students have or a return to or an increase in some of our services.”
The district had already made cuts following a November levy failure. The teachers union accepted a pay freeze and higher health insurance rates in a recent contract ratified on March 7.
“It was tense already that day,” John Leatherman, president of the Medina City Teachers Association, said of the contract vote.
Leatherman said he had reviewed documents with Medina City Schools Treasurer Jim Hudson earlier that day that showed some of the benefits being paid to the superintendent. He said he still urged his members to approve the labor agreement.
Robinson acknowledged that it was the public records request made by Leatherman and the union that led to the discovery of questionable expenditures for trips and professional development sessions by Stepp from the county fund without the board’s oversight.
“There’s a lot of things that stand out in that document,” Leatherman said of a public records request detailing 800 pages of expenses.
For instance, Stepp was reimbursed $4,782.89 for a trip to the National School Boards Association conference in Orlando in 2009. The trip was booked at one hotel, but later switched to a luxury hotel where Stepp and his family stayed for four days at about $550 a night.
Each expense was paid through a “carryover account” held and distributed by the Medina County Educational Service Center.
Medina County ESC Treasurer Michelle McNeely said Stepp would periodically ask for money from the account to pay for expenses like the Orlando trip. She distributed the money under the assumption that the superintendent was working with the approval of the Medina school board.
“The superintendent and treasurer both report to the board,” she said.
The Medina City School board is expected to convene today to fill a vacant board seat after former President Charlie Freeman resigned amid the controversy surrounding Stepp’s contract and bonus.
The board also plans to review the scope of the investigation conducted by the state auditor while the Medina County ESC conducts its own investigation.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.