MEDINA: The Medina Board of Education voted Monday afternoon to suspend Superintendent Randy Stepp without pay, initiating what could be a lengthy legal fight.

The five-member board’s unanimous vote followed a meeting with Stepp and his attorney earlier in the day, the first in a series of due process hearings that could eventually be arbitrated by a state-appointed referee.

The board has hired outside counsel and expects Stepp, previously on paid leave since April, to contest his suspension.

Cleveland attorney David Dreshel, representing Stepp, made no additional comment Monday and directed the media to a statement he prepared last week.

“Dr. Stepp has stated from the day he was placed on leave that if he has done anything in error while leading the Medina City School District he is willing to make it right,” the statement reads. “Any error was unintentional and made while serving the District with the best interests of the students and community in mind.”

The board voted Thursday to move forward with the steps needed for Stepp’s termination after a state auditor’s investigation just days earlier determined that Stepp had misspent $4,121 in public funds for gift cards and travel expenses. Another $172,000 in school funds appropriated by Stepp to repay personal student loans remains under investigation.

The termination proceedings and ongoing state investigation “could take some time,” said board President Karla Robinson. “This is the beginning of the termination proceeding. Right now, he is suspended without pay. This is a fairly lengthy process.”

Robinson and other board members who renegotiated Stepp’s contract earlier this year have either resigned or have indicated that they will step down by May. The contract included $265,000 in reimbursements for Stepp’s college education and an $83,000 retention bonus. Stepp originally agreed to pay back the bonus, but has since rescinded that offer, instead choosing to litigate the matter in federal court, Robinson said.

“We’re doing everything possible to get to the bottom of the controversy and also to improve our practices and policies going forward so that these types of problems won’t ever happen again in our district,” Robinson said.

The school district is asking voters to approve a 5.9-mill additional levy on Tuesday after removing a similar measure from the May ballot amid public outcry.

John Leatherman, president of the Medina City Teachers Association, applauded the board for moving forward with Stepp’s removal.

“We kind of hit the point [where] enough is enough. And certainly the levy is on everybody’s minds. This was one of the last pieces that we sort of needed in place for a lot of votes,” Leatherman said. “We need to move on and we need to heal.”

Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com.