Tipp City school board member: ‘I don’t even feel safe coming to these meetings’

Tippecanoe High School. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF
Tippecanoe High School. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

Board speaks to leadership development trainer at meeting

The Tipp City Exempted Village Schools Board of Education’s proposed leadership development training was shelved last week but not until a potential consultant heard board member comments about their run ins with fellow board members.

The contentious atmosphere during discussions at board meetings was among topics board members shared Sept. 14 with attorney John Britton, who also works as an educational leadership consultant.

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The board has been criticized by district residents attending meetings for how it at times conducts business. Residents have termed the board dysfunctional and said it has focused on personal disputes versus the district’s students.

A group of residents this summer circulated petitions calling for the resignations of board President Theresa Dunaway and Vice President Anne Zakkour and board member Simon Patry proposed a resolution that would have censured all five board members. In proposing the censure he said he believed there had been “serious violations of our bylaws, our policies, our code of ethics and the Ohio Open Meetings Act.”

Britton said he would be willing to work on leadership development but would need the buy-in of all five board members.

The effort’s goals would include working toward alignment, he said. “Alignment doesn’t mean that everyone has to agree on all the issues, but what is important is you have to agree on the process and the ground rules,” Britton said.

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Among issues that would need discussed would be transitions, including new members joining the board; conflict resolution techniques; and effective parliamentary procedures, he said. Board discussions at times have dissolved into back and forth over proper parliamentary procedure and other legal questions such as whether it is appropriate for a board member to contact district legal counsel.

“We need to get firm answers and agree to follow those answers,” Zakkour said.

There was discussion about the timing of the training because two board members — Joellen Heatherly and Corine Doll — are not seeking re-election in November.

Doll was in favor of participating in and getting started on the training as soon as possible. “It has to happen,” she said. “Anyone who has watched these meetings knows that this board … needs development.”

Dunaway said the board definitely needs help with handling its disagreements.

“I don’t even feel safe coming to these meetings. It is just not a safe environment,” Dunaway said.

She said board members need to leave their disagreements in the board room and not engage in bullying and harassment of board members who disagree.

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Patry said he didn’t favor engaging in the training until new board members are selected and able to participate. The board dynamic could change with two new people, he said.

“I don’t particularly feel it would be a useful exercise to spend school district money on and your time on something that could change,” he said. Patry also told Britton that the Miami County prosecutor’s office is investigating the allegations made in the censure document that was defeated by the board in a 3-2 vote.

Without full board member willingness to participate at this time, Britton ended the discussion and told the board to let him know if he could help in the future.

Heatherly said after his departure that she wasn’t involved much in the conversation because she felt the board had other issues that needed addressed first. Among those, she said, were the protesters who gathered outside the board meeting that evening calling for the board to both implement and not implement a face mask policy for district students.

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