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Medina school board approves $750,000 settlement with fired Superintendent Randy Stepp

  • 22806971

    Medina Schools Superintendent Aaron Sable, center, on Monday night reads the language of the $750,000 settlement to a lawsuit former Superintendent Randy Stepp brought after a previous board of education fired him in 2013. Also pictured, from left, district Treasurer David Chambers and board members Rebecca Parkhurst, Rob Skidmore and Ron Ross.

    LIZ SHEAFFER / GAZETTE

  • 012218MedinaBOE02LS-jpg

    From left, Superintendent Aaron Sable and board members Rob Skidmore a Ron Ross listen to resident Mark Kuhar following the board's vote to approve the $750,000 settlement to a lawsuit brought by former Superintendent Randy Stepp. Kuhar said the board promised transparency and thanked it for following through by publicizing details of the settlement.

    LIZ SHEAFFER / GAZETTE

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22806971

Medina Schools Superintendent Aaron Sable, center, on Monday night reads the language of the $750,000 settlement to a lawsuit former Superintendent Randy Stepp brought after a previous board of education fired him in 2013. Also pictured, from left, district Treasurer David Chambers and board members Rebecca Parkhurst, Rob Skidmore and Ron Ross.

LIZ SHEAFFER / GAZETTE Enlarge

MEDINA — The Medina Board of Education voted 5-0 Monday to accept the $750,000 settlement agreement between fired Superintendent Randy Stepp and a former school board.

The school district’s insurance company, Liberty Mutual, will cover the entire settlement amount. The $750,000 will be payable to Stepp and his attorneys, Buckingham, Doolittle and Burroughs LLC., based on a compromise of all of Stepp’s claims against the defendants inclusive of costs, attorneys’ fees and interest on the settlement payment.

The board went into executive session for about 20 minutes before returning to vote on the settlement.

About 40 people attended the meeting, many of them district employees.

Only one Medina resident took the opportunity to speak after the vote in the middle auditorium at Medina High School.

“I think I speak for many in the community when I say it offends my personal sense of moral justice that even one dime is paid out to someone who has already gorged themselves at the trough of our tax dollars and negatively impacted our children and our district’s reputation,” said Mark Kuhar, who runs the Medina City Schools Outrage Facebook page.

“I have nothing but disdain for the board members who sat in those seats before you guys did and enabled (Stepp’s) spending spree through gross dereliction of duty, not to mention the (Educational Service Center of Medina County), who failed us miserably in this case.

“Let it be noted that none of you were actually in positions of authority when all of this happened.”

Kuhar said he would have liked to see the case go to trial.

“I understand the need to move forward at the recommendation of your attorneys and insurance company,” he said.

“We demanded transparency, as ugly as it is.”

Christopher M. Ernst, personal attorney for the board, said the settlement was best for everyone involved in the case.

“It’s time to heal for the community and to look forward rather than backward,” he said.

Warren Rosman, the insurance company’s defense counsel, also represented former school board members Karla Robinson, Susan Vlcek, William Grenfell and Charles Freeman.

“Settlements bring peace to a situation, and that’s what we’ve done,” said Rosman of Weston Hurd LLP in Cleveland. “The school board will be able to move forward.

“I represented four individuals who had punitive damage claims, which are not insured. That was being held over their heads for four years. Those people will now be able to go home to their families and not have to worry about their houses being taken away from them.”

Ernst called the lawsuit a wound.

“Now they can heal,” he said.

“That’s the good thing about a settlement,” Rosman said. “It brings finality. A lawsuit hanging over a litigant’s head can be horrible. It’s closure.”

Medina Superintendent Aaron Sable said the premium on the district’s liability insurance was $10,000. That must be paid on every claim.

“We do have a deductible, just like people have on their own, personal insurance,” he said. “At the time the case began, our deductible was $5,000. Currently, our deductible is $10,000. I want to emphasize, though, our deductible did not go up because of this case. We chose for it to go up in order to lower our premiums. That was our decision as a school district.

“We have not paid anything more than our required deductible.”

Stepp’s attorney, Mike Matasich, didn’t return a message seeking comment Monday night.

In 2013, Stepp was fired after a state audit found more than $4,000 in what was termed “illegal spending” by him and more than $1.5 million in spending that wasn’t properly documented or was said to have had no clear public purpose.

The audit was requested in the wake of public outcry over the school board awarding Stepp an $83,000 bonus and paying $172,000 in student loans that Stepp accrued before he became superintendent — all while the district sought to pass a levy for more public funding.

Money for the educational payments came from a “carryover fund” the educational service center maintained for school districts.

The legal battle between the board and Stepp has bounced between federal and common pleas courts since 2013.

In April of that year the board placed Stepp on paid leave pending the outcome of a state audit into his spending of district funds and rescinded his new contact, which the board unanimously approved in January. In May, Stepp sued in U.S. District Court in Akron, asking he be awarded the “full value” of his Jan. 7, five-year contract — valued at $1.2 million by the Medina teachers union — and compensation for damage to his reputation and “mental anguish and suffering,” along with attorney fees and court costs.

The district countersued in October, demanding more than $1 million in damages.

Almost a year later, in June, a federal magistrate recommended the dismissal of Stepp’s challenge to the Medina board’s decision to rescind his contract, citing the contract issues raised in the lawsuit are grounded in state law and should be handled by a common pleas court rather than federal court.

On Aug. 20, 2014, the case landed in Medina County Common Pleas Court. Stepp sued for breach of contract, defamation and invasion of privacy. Named in the suit were former school board members Robinson, Vlcek, Grenfell and Freeman. Jim Shields, the school district’s human resources director and general legal counsel, also was named.

Board members and Shields, in court filings, asserted they had no idea public funds had been used to pay off Stepp’s student loan debt.

But Stepp in his suit said details of the contract were included in telephone and email exchanges with Vlcek and Shields.

The board and Shields separately sought summary judgments against Stepp’s claims, which Visiting Judge Thomas J. Pokorny denied. Both appealed to the 9th District Court of Appeals and were denied.

Contact reporter Bob Finnan at (330) 721-4049 or rfinnan@medina-gazette.com.



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