WARNING. There won’t be any comics or pop culture in today’s bloggy
thing. It’s another case of my having to write something to get it
out of my head before I can move on to more enjoyable discussions.
I went to the Medina County Board of Elections on Monday morning to
cast my votes on a fairly short ballot. Ever since I was harassed
verbally by an asshat Republican poll worker who loudly proclaimed
I shouldn’t be allowed to vote, I prefer to vote before the usual
Election Day. It’s less stressful and much quicker.
Three of the five items on this short ballot were uncontested races
for the City of Medina’s mayor, director of finance, and member of
council at large. The fourth race was to select three members of
the Medina City School District Board of Education from the field
of seven candidates. The remaining item was to vote on a proposed
tax levy for the school district.
Veteran readers of this bloggy thing will recall that, after never
voting against a school levy for most of my life, I voted against
the past two school levies. My reason for voting against them was
a complete lack of faith in the school board and, most especially,
Superintendent Randolph Stepp. This time around, the situation has
Stepp is a bad guy. An arrogant and egotistical but nonetheless
clever man, he was clearly fast-tracked for the superintendent gig
by the local elites who pretty much run everything in Medina. He
and I butted heads several times when he was the principal of the
I objected to Stepp giving military recruiters better access to the
students than any other “employer,” even allowing them into one of
my son’s classrooms without prior parental knowledge or approval.
Nothing like trapping kids in a military sales pitch at a time when
President Bush needed more troops for his illegal war against Iraq
and his increasingly mismanaged war in Afghanistan. I complained
and Stepp’s response was insufficient. He said this would not be
done in the future, but refused to put that in writing. He said I
would have to take him at his word.
Stepp also refused to address, even half-heartedly, my complaints
about a troll-like math teacher who had verbally abused my son when
he was in her class and who physically laid hands on my daughter
for an accidental violation of the school dress code. This woman
was known for her lurking in hallways and at the bottom of stairs
to catch girls in such infractions. She was so notorious for this
unsettling pattern of behavior that, when I was telling a grocery
store cashier, a former teammate of my daughter, about the teacher,
the woman in line behind me joined the conversation. Even though
I had not mentioned the teacher by name, the customer knew exactly
who I was talking about.
Then there was the time the Move*On organization scheduled a silent
non-partisan candlelight vigil to honor the first Medina citizen to
die in the new Gulf Wars. The high school announced the vigil as it did
other local events. Then the local Republicans objected and then
Stepp went to the media to complain he’d been “tricked” by Move*On
into publicizing the vigil. Like those Republicans, he made this
unifying event into a one-sided political fight.
Stepp was superintendent when President Barack Obama addressed the
nation’s students via a live broadcast shortly after his historic
election. Stepp wouldn’t allow the broadcast to be shown in Medina
schools. To put this in perspective, when mere candidate George W.
Bush came to town, students were bused to our town square to hear
Bush speak. Somehow, it was permissible to take the students from
school to listen to a Republican presidential candidate and spend
district funds to do that, but it was not permissible for students
to spend an hour listening to a Democratic president at no expense
to the district. Yeah...and people around here keep trying to tell
me educational issues are non-partisan.
Stepp gave the commencement speeches at the graduations of my son
and my daughter, or, more accurately, the commencement speech. It
was the same speech and all about what an amazing person Stepp was.
My neighbors have had to listen to the speech three times so far,
but, hopefully, they’ll be spared having to listen to it when their
youngest graduates next year. I knew Stepp was an arrogant creep,
but that speech forever cemented my opinion of him.
Stepp and the current school board have been on the hot seat this
election cycle. The district hasn’t passed a levy in years and was
in the middle of contract negotiations with the remarkably patient
and even generous teachers union when some alarming facts came out
about Stepp, his compensation and his spending of district funds.
For more complete background on this, you should visit the Medina
City Schools Outrage Page on Facebook.
Here’s the short version. Stepp got paid a lot of money while the
district was bleeding cash and not passing levies. The board made
questionable cuts while Stepp kept getting incredible perks. The
board violated state sunshine laws to extend Stepp’s contract and
give him a $83,000 “signing bonus.” The latter was classic Medina
elitism at work. The elite got to get paid, sometimes with money,
sometimes with power, always at the expense of others.
The shit really hit the fan when it was learned Stepp had received
a quarter million dollars reimbursement for college and continuing
education loans and tuition...and he himself had cut these checks
from school district funds. Amazingly, the terms of his generous
contract allowed this...and it also called for the district to pay
the taxes on these fringe benefits.
The school board’s initial response was to defend these astonishing
benefits in its usual arrogant manner. When that didn’t work, the
board members then pleaded ignorance of the terms of the contract.
The designation “wankers” comes to mind.
There were resignations and calls for resignations. Some demanded
criminal investigations into Stepp’s actions. More information of
possible misuse of school funds became known. Stepp would be put
on paid administrative leave while an audit of the school accounts
was conducted. That audit has since found illegal use of school district
funds by Stepp.
The board’s extension of Stepp’s contract clearly violated sunshine
laws and the board rescinded that extension. Stepp’s response was
to file a lawsuit against the district and the school board while
continuing to draw his salary.
A May levy was taken off the ballot because it didn’t have a prayer
of passing. The November levy was clearly in jeopardy as well with
the public calling for the resignation of every school board member
who had been a party to this infamy. One declared he wouldn’t run
for election. Two others arrogantly refused to accept that they’d
done anything wrong.
My response was to state publically that I would not vote for the
November levy if those two board members did not resign and that I
would vote for the levy if they did. Those two members are still
on the board, but have announced their resignations for January and
May of next year.
After much soul-searching, I decided I would vote for the levy on
those terms. The two new board members appointed to fill existing
vacant positions have been willing to address the public in a more
open and transparent fashion. The board appointed Dave Knight, a
terrific guy who was the principal of Sidney Fenn Elementary School
when my kids went there, as acting superintendent. Knight quickly
determined and made public what cuts would have to be made if the
November levy doesn’t pass. Despite my continued misgivings about
the board and Medina elitism in general, I could not vote against
this very necessary levy.
On Monday morning, I voted in favor of the levy. However, there is
no guarantee the levy will pass. At a time when a certain faction
of our country is openly hostile to all government, there are those
who will never vote for the common good. Indeed, in this time of
Tea Party madness, there are those who will vote against their own
best interests and those of the country.
Some of the no-voters claim the school board must earn back their
trust before they’ll vote for a levy, even though all the offending
board members will be gone by May. Others point to Ohio’s broken
and unconstitutional laws concerning property taxes and the funding
of public education. While that is certainly a disgrace, it’s not
something the school board can fix.
One numb-nut took offense at my statement that I thought no public
money should ever go to charter or religious schools as his excuse
for voting against the levy. That makes perfect sense. Because one
fellow voter doesn’t agree with you, you’re not going to vote for
the levy. You can find similar childish whining among Republican
members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The one question I would have liked the school board candidates to
answer was what is your political party affiliation and, if you’re
claiming to be an independent, who your Presidential candidate was
in the previous national election? Of course, whenever I bring
up this question, people will pout and whine that being a member of
the school board is non-partisan.
Almost nothing in this country is non-partisan. In my view, what
the Republican Party has come to stand for is bad for this country.
The attitudes I seen reflected in the right-wing are similar to the
attitudes I see in the Medina elites, not surprising given how damn
Republican my city is. Given a choice, I’d be more likely to vote
for a Democratic or a board candidate who supported President Obama
than a Republican, a Tea Party nutbag, or someone who misguidedly
voted for Mitt Romney. Sadly, I was denied what I consider vital
I rolled up my sleeves - figuratively, as my home office attire is
a t-shirt and pajama bottoms - and researched the candidates to the
best of my ability. The only decision I had made prior to this was
that I wouldn’t vote for both of the current members who had been
appointed to fill vacant seats by the board members in whom I had
no confidence or trust.
There were candidates I felt were too connected to the very Medina
elites who had so injured our school district. There were others
I could not get a good sense of. One candidate was eliminated from
consideration because of his affiliation to an organization I knew
I cast my votes based on several factors. Did I have a sense that
the candidates understood the situation on a non-elite level? Did
I agree with the comments they had made and the positions they had
taken? Did their lives suggest to me they have what it takes
to fix the school district and give our Medina kids the education
they deserve and need?
I cast my votes for...
I’m confident that, if elected, they will do right by the students
and the community. If they don’t, well, I expect to do a landmark
business selling pitchforks and torches.
Okay, that last line was a joke. Lord knows we needed one of those
after almost two thousand words of my venting which, hereafter, I
will refer to as reasoned commentary.
I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.
© 2013 Tony Isabella