Medina school superintendent placed on leave

5:04 PM, Apr 8, 2013   |    comments
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MEDINA -- The Medina City Schools Board of Education has placed Superintendent Dr. Randy Stepp on paid administrative leave pending further investigation.

The board says in a written release that the leave is effective today and is being taken as part of a "standard investigatory procedure and is not a disciplinary action or adverse employment action or finding of wrongdoing."

Board President Karla Robinson says the state auditor is going as far back as 10 years looking at financial records.

"This is standard procedure to put a public employee on paid leave while investigating, this is not disciplinary action."

Interviewed at his home today, Dr. Stepp says he has done nothing wrong.

"No I am not going to resign, I did nothing wrong. These were contracts that were approved," says Stepp. He also said it has been very stressful for his family.

"I've had to take my kids out of school, because of threats," says Stepp.

On Friday, it  was reported the state auditor will review a fund used to pay Stepp more than $265,000 for college education expenses. The Medina BOE sought the review after questions arose about the fund.

The coverage of education expenses was part of Stepp's contract but the community has questioned some other payments including travel expenses.

Stepp sent out a letter to the Medina community.

Here is that letter:

Dear Community, Given the decision made today by the Medina City School District Board of Education to place me on paid administrative leave, 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.

I have not communicated with the community at large during these difficult times because I chose to take the high road. However, as a result of today's action by the board I cannot sit back and let things continue as they have. Many parents and others have encouraged me to provide additional context regarding my contract and the board's unanimous approval of its provisions over the years.

I have given my heart and soul to this community and this district for the past 11years. I have served your children and I have served Medina with all my heart. To have things unfold as they have and without fair representation of the facts is very disheartening. In the interest of clarity and full understanding, I cannot stand by and let things continue unchecked.

In December 2012 future board president, Mr. Charles Freeman, approached me about staying on as superintendent of the Medina City School District. Mr. Freeman shared with me at that time that he was approaching me as a representative of the board. He also shared that the board was concerned that representatives from other school districts were soliciting me for superintendent openings.

With the exception of my first contract, the practice of the board president serving as a representative of the board in contract negotiations with me has been standard during my tenure as superintendent. At this meeting in December 2012 Mr. Freeman essentially asked me what it would take to keep me in Medina. I told him that I would put a proposal together and present it to the board.

On the morning of January 7, 2013 I submitted to the board a proposal for a new five-year contract. That evening the board voted unanimously to approve the contract with virtually no changes and very few questions. The contract approved on January 7, 2013, and the previous one it replaced, included provisions to reimburse me for additional education that the board and I mutually agreed upon, which has included an MBA at the Weatherhead School at Case Western Reserve University.

As my contract reads, "The Board shall reimburse the superintendent for any college coursework completed for the purpose of expanding his professional knowledge and skills or for keeping his license current, including tuition, fees, books and any other classroom materials required by the institution providing the service."

As you can see, these education reimbursements were part of my contractual relationship with Medina City School District that was fully and unanimously approved by the board. I think it is also important to note that Mr. Freeman assisted me in the process of selecting the MBA program. Upon acceptance into the program at Case Western Reserve University then board president, Mr. Mark Dolan, signed off on the employer agreement. As I stated in my communication to parents last week, I want to assure each of you that everything relating to my contract and education expense reimbursement was done in a transparent manner and in close consultation with the acting board president at the time, including the use of the Medina County Education Service Center (ESC) to cover the cost associated with the acquisition of past academic degrees.

In 2011, then-board president, Susan Vlcek, and I were communicating in person, via phone, and via email about an amendment to my 2009 contract. I included in house legal counsel, Mr. Jim Shields, on many of the communications. During those communications I clearly indicated to Mrs. Vlcek and Mr. Shields that I intended to use funds from the ESC to cover the costs associated with my past education. This was proposed not as a way to hide the expenditure, but as a way to avoid using general funds to cover those costs. I wanted to make sure that we were utilizing other resources before turning to general funds which support student programs.

I even went as far as to suggest to Mrs. Vlcek that the language in my contract should indicate that the costs associated with the acquisition of past academic degrees would be paid for with funds from the ESC. I also provided her an approximation as to the amount to be covered. Our initial conversations began with the idea that we would engage in a new five-year contract. At that time we were also discussing the possibility of spreading the costs associated with the past academic degrees over five-years. When we learned that we could not engage in a new five-year contract the language that was agreed upon permitted coverage of the education costs at one time.

During these conversations I clearly communicated to Mrs. Vlcek and included the District's in house legal counsel, Mr. Shields, on the communication that indicated that the education costs that I sought to have covered included past academic degrees related to education, education administration, and educational leadership. These three degrees represent my Bachelor's, Master's and Doctorate. I had also shared that the payment would be made directly to the lending institution. The District's in house legal counsel, Mr. Shields, drafted the November 2011 contract amendment for the board agenda, which included the following language that was highlighted in red on the board documents attached to the agenda in order to bring attention to the modification, "The Board also agrees to pay the costs associated with the Superintendent's acquisition of past academic degrees as they relate to education."

Again, the board unanimously approved the language and did not ask any questions about it of me. Because there were no questions, it was my assumption that Mrs. Vlcek and/or Mr. Shields briefed the board on the meaning of the language. It is important to note that the language surrounding the coverage of education costs was discussed well in advance of the date that the board approved it and it was suggested by me that it be shared with the District's primary legal counsel.

There has also been much conversation regarding the use of Medina County Educational Service Center funds for professional development and costs associated with attendance at professional conferences. The District's practice of using ESC funds to cover costs for consultants and professional development predates my time as superintendent. During my time as superintendent we have used the ESC carryover funds for a number of items, some of which are directly related to student needs, while others relate to professional development. The use of funds for professional development is not specific only to me.

ESC funds have been used to cover the professional development cost of others as well, including the District's in house legal counsel. Again, the intent was never to hide the use of the funds. The intent was to draw those funds down before opting to use general funds. Had this been a procedurally improper use of those funds we would have expected that the ESC's treasurer or the ESC's auditors would have indicated such.

I think it is important to note that had the ESC carryover funds not been available we would have still made the expenditures out of the district's general fund. We believed that the expenditure of funds for professional development was for good reason. The board has expressly indicated in my evaluations that they expect me to professionally develop our staff, which includes me. Besides the factors already mentioned, I believe that I was within my rights as outlined in my contract with the board to make these requests for expenditure. It is also important to understand that we followed the guidance of the ESC's treasurer when using those funds.

Never were we ever told that those funds could not be used for what we were requesting. When we submitted a purchase order or a request for payment we were asked for documentation of the expenditure and we provided it. Like the Medina City School District, the ESC is audited annually. At no time did the ESC's treasurer or its auditors ever indicate to us that how we were using carryover funds was procedurally improper. I think it is also important to note that the use of ESC funds is typically reviewed annually with the District's treasurer and superintendent and our ESC counterparts.

I fully endorse the Board President Karla Robinson's leadership in asking the state auditor to review ESC expenditures. That is routinely done and is appropriate to be done again now. My new contract, unanimously approved by the board in January, also provided an $83,000 retention incentive, which the board has acknowledged was aimed at retaining me as superintendent and incentivizing me to withdraw from consideration for employment opportunities with other school districts. As with other incentives in past contracts, there is a consequence attached to the incentive should I take another position and leave the district before the contract expires.

I think it is important to note that retention incentives are becoming more and more common in superintendent contracts and I have upheld my end of the contract. Quite honestly, I agreed to a contract with my employer, the board of education, and find it somewhat unfair that I am still being criticized for fairly negotiating an employment agreement with my boss. I understand that some do not like the terms of the contract, but it was fairly negotiated and unanimously approved by the board. Again, I regret that these circumstances have become such a passionate issue.

Please know that everything around my contractual relationships have been openly discussed by me with the representative board president and unanimously approved by the representative board president and the board. I have documentation of the various communications I've referenced in this letter to back up what I am stating. I can't speak to the process the board has used over time to share information with each other, the district's legal counsel, or reach their conclusions.

Only they can answer those questions. Those in the community with questions about the provisions of my contract should direct their inquiry to board members who have consistently and unanimously approved my contracts over the years. Thank you very much for your continued support of our District and, most important, our students and all they are achieving as young women and men.

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