Tipp BOE discusses issue of public perception

TIPP CITY — The Tipp City Board of Education discussed contracting the services of a communication agency to address public perception of the board during a work session Tuesday evening.

According to Superintendent Mark Stefanik, he has inquired about these services from one agency, which he said specializes in “crisis communications.”

“We don’t have a crisis in one of our school buildings, but at the same time, we’ve got multiple topics out there being circulated. We’ve got some folks sharing some — I’ll call it opinions, but sometimes they feel as they are stating them as facts, or their beliefs, and it’ll come out being stated as facts. I’m using the communications agency as a consult to help us address that,” Stefanik said.

The discussion comes in the wake of public discussion regarding the leadership of the school board, as well as the Tipp City Education Association’s request for the board to censure comments from school board vice president Anne Zakkour. Additionally, Stefanik said there is a high volume of public records requests, which his office has fallen behind in responding to, and that reactions to his office’s responses have created “work or emotions,” as well as a strain on the work at the district office.

“Right now, we have multi-faceted and multi-layered situations, and so I wanted this outside lens on the district to see what we can do,” Stefanik said. “Right now, they’re in a consultants phase of this contract. If we get to a point where we want to utilize their services too much more, then we might get to a contract level that requires me to bring it here for board approval. At that point we’ll also have data on what their plan of action is, their recommendations, how we’ll put those in play, and if they helped us address some of the concerns that are being presented to us.”

According to Stefanik, the first contract would have a limit of $5,000.

Board member Simon Patry said he isn’t aware of any crises or concerns in the district beyond those pertaining to the board of education specifically, and that he has reservations about utilizing school district money on a consultant pertaining to the situations Stefanik presented. He added that he doesn’t see the benefit of utilizing a communication consultant when Tipp City Schools already has a communications director within the district office.

“If the things we are spending school district money on are to fix the perception of constituents of this board of education, (and if this) is the primary use of this consultant, I would just share that I have some pretty meaningful reservations about that,” Patry said. “I’m not sure whatever this consultant suggests is going to fix the public’s perception.”

Zakkour brought up that while public records requests are there for a purpose, she feels that the continuous requests have turned into a fishing expedition in the hopes of finding something to prove a point.

“To me, that motivation is a problem, because to me, that’s a motivating process that says, ‘I don’t have trust. I don’t have confidence in the people that are leaders here.’ And to me, the understanding where that distrust, the real core (…) of how it started, whether it’s statements at board meetings, perpetuating whistleblowing on people, or whether it’s perpetuating allegations that don’t really ever come to fruition — I think it’s a comprehensive sort of, look at the different systems, what’s going on, and heal it,” Zakkour said.

Zakkour added she thinks there is a communication breakdown, and that the public wants to understand and make sense of things.

“I commend you, Mr. Stefanik. What’s been happening here is undeniable, and I think it’s great leadership to look at it and improve the situation,” Zakkour said.

The board also approved the following Tuesday evening:

• The resignations of Amy Epperson, Tippecanoe High School assistant principal; Nick Albers, Tippecanoe High School integrated business teacher; Bruce Cahill, head high school baseball coach; Michael Hoffman, assistant high school softball coach; Kaci Matthews, head high school girls tennis coach; and Scott Sutton, head high school softball coach, were unanimously approved.

• The hiring of Diane Voress as Tippecanoe Middle School principal was unanimously approved.

• The hiring of certified staff Molly Horne, Tippecanoe High School integrated science; Jason Clendening, Tippecanoe High School biology and life science; Kelly Smith, Tippecanoe High School counselor; and classified staff Taylor Szwarc, LT Ball Library clerk, were unanimously approved.

• The proposed staff position of a Chromebook specialist was approved in a 4-1 vote, with Patry voting against the motion. Patry said during discussions that he did not want to approve the position without knowing what the necessary qualifications for the position were.

The next regular meeting of the Tipp City Board of Education will be at 6 p.m., Monday, June 28.