Tipp City superintendent hires consultant to work on crisis communication

Tipp City Superintendent Mark Stefanik
Tipp City Superintendent Mark Stefanik

TIPP CITY – The Tipp City Exempted Village Schools superintendent has hired consultants who specialize in crisis communications to help the district find its way through challenging times with the public.

Superintendent Mark Stefanik’s discussion with the board of education at its monthly work session of his hiring of the consultants led to mixed reactions from board members.

The district and its board have faced challenges for months with current issues including a citizen’s group petition calling for board President Theresa Dunaway and Vice President Anne Zakkour to resign and the local education association’s request for censure of Zakkour about comments at board meetings.

Earlier, controversies included the board’s role in appointments to the local library board.

The board office also is behind on responding to a large number of public records requests being filed with the district, Stefanik said.

“We kind of have an information flow and multiple topic type of communication crisis. We don’t have the crisis of an emergency or traumatic event with a student or staff, but we have multiple topics out there being circulated,” Stefanik said.

Among concerns is people in the community “sharing opinions but sometimes stating them as facts … so I am using an agency as a consultant to help us address that,” he said.

The consultants initially are analyzing district communications and will make recommendations on the types of communications being used to address various situations. The consultants provide “an outside lens” on possible solutions, Stefanik said.

Board member Joellen Heatherly questioned how the consultants’ efforts would be different from those of the district’s full-time communications coordinator. The two would work in partnership, Stefanik said.

The initial contract is for $5,000. If more support is needed, Stefanik said he would come to the board with a proposal

Board member Simon Patry asked what crisis necessitated the hiring.

“We have a lot of information and concerns out there. It is putting a strain on the work at the central office,” Stefanik said. “We are trying to figure out how to address concerns in the best manner … so we can get back to a positive outlook for the district; the more typical work at the district office.”

Patry challenged the need. “I am not aware of any school district crisis or information out there beyond concerns about the board of education and its constituents,” he said, adding consultants shouldn’t be used to “fix the perception” of the board of education.

He, too, noted the full-time position for communication.

“I am not so sure whatever this consultant suggests is going to fix the public perception,” Patry said.

Stefanik said the consultants are working with him, not the board. “They are making those recommendations to me.”

Board member Corine Doll thanked Stefanik for acknowledging the district needs to be communicating something to the public. “… I think that shows a step in leadership.You have to know when you need help in doing something … I think it is an appropriate time. We have a lot of things we need to communicate really clearly to our community,” she said.

Zakkour said she has lived in the community for decades and has never seen anything like the current atmosphere. “What has happened in our community, to me … it has been an insidious, growing to be a pervasive systemic cancer. It is infecting and spreading,” she said. “I think there is definitely a communication breakdown … I think people are trying to make sense of things. I think it is great leadership to look at it and try to improve the situation.”

Contact this contributing writer at nancykburr@aol.com.