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Medina school chief sues board, claims defamation

MEDINA, Ohio (AP) — A school superintendent in northeastern Ohio has sued the district's school board in federal court, claiming that the panel defamed him in a recent public controversy over his contract.

The lawsuit was filed Friday in federal court in Cleveland by Medina City Schools superintendent Randy Stepp. He accuses school board members of making public statements that put him in a "false light" by suggesting that he acted inappropriately regarding a recent contract and pay issue.

The Medina Gazette reports that Stepp was put on paid leave April 8 pending a state audit of his use of money held by a special district educational fund.

The board then rescinded Stepp's new contract April 16, saying that it wasn't valid because the board had violated the state's open meeting law by failing to properly publicize the January meeting where it was approved.

That action followed a public backlash over Stepp's new contract — which provided an $83,000 "retention" signing bonus — and publicity about earlier contracts that obligated the district to pay for Stepp's old college loans and for his master's degree.

Stepp contends a November 2011 amendment to his 2009 contract provided for payment of "past academic degrees." His lawsuit charges that the board was aware of the full cost of the contract provisions but falsely claimed ignorance in a March press release.

"The press release caused the public perception that, among other things, Stepp misled the Board of Education concerning the extent of the reimbursement for his education and that Stepp misued ... funds," the lawsuit stated.

Stepp also contends that he was pressured into returning some of the money provided by the contract extension.

The lawsuit names school board members, as well as the district's attorney and treasurer. Stepp is seeking unspecified damages covering pay, damage to his reputation and public humiliation.

A call to the district southwest of Cleveland was unreturned Monday. The newspaper said the board was expected to discuss the issue at Monday's meeting.

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