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Education


The Medina school board's unusual step is unlikely to keep it out of court
Requirements of the open meetings law may now have been  met, but the superintendent says the board is trying to give itself cover
by WKSU's M.L. SCHULTZE


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M.L. Schultze
 
The dispute over the Medina school superintendent's contract is likely heading to court.
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In The Region:

The Medina school board has taken the unusual step of invalidating a contract it now says it approved illegally. But, as WKSU’s M.L. Schultze reports, the dispute over the superintendent’s contract is far from over.

SCHULTZE: The unusual step and where it's headed

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The Medina Board of Education has been taking a lot of heat since the action it took at its Jan. 7 meeting became public six weeks later.

The board had unanimously approved a new five-year contract with Superintendent Randy Stepp that included an $83,000 signing bonus.

But the contract wasn’t on the agenda before the meeting. The board didn’t specify why it was going into executive session during the meeting. And after the meeting, the minutes didn’t reflect what happened.

This week, the school board acknowledged what many have claimed, that the whole thing violated the state’s open meetings law. And then the board went a step further – rescinding the contract.

A rarity
Dave Marburger of Cleveland has been practicing first amendment and open government law for 30 years. He says the Medina case as unusual on several fronts.

“Even when, as a matter of law, the act is invalid and their lawyer knows it is, it is rare for the public body to acknowledge that they made mistake,” he said. Even rarer, he said, is a government to undo “the act on their own.”   

Dennis Hetzel is executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association and president of the Ohio Coalition for Open Government. He says cases like this one often end in do-overs, with local governments trying to go back to affirm their actions.

“If a board does kind of an ‘Oh whoops’ --  and often it is innocent, they realize after the fact that they went too far and they shouldn’t have done what they did -- they just simply quickly correct it.” And he said the courts often respond: "There’s no significant damage, … you corrected it, it’s moot, don’t do it again.'"

A different legal threat now
But the Medina board’s action is now likely to be in court on a totally different basis. Superintendent Stepp, who is on paid leave, says the deal was valid, and the board is trying to “profit from their mistake and remove themselves from a legal obligation to uphold a contract that they willfully and unanimously approved.”

Stepp said in an email that the dispute is in the hands of his lawyer so he can’t comment further.


Related WKSU Stories

Controversy, spending and contracts diminish chances for Medina's levy
Tuesday, April 9, 2013

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