When John Curzio was elected to the Carmel Board of Education a year after he graduated from the district, he was eager to elicit change and serve his community, but he quickly found himself inundated in controversy with his colleagues and residents as conflicting opinions stirred frustration.
Now the 23-year-old New York City Police Officer is hoping to make his return to the school board when voters head to the polls on May 18. Curzio, a 2015 Carmel graduate who was a one-term board member, lost his seat in 2019 after seeking a second term.
“I’ve always loved the Carmel School District and I believe in community service and giving back, and I wanted to put my name forward and give people a real choice in this election,” Curzio said. “I hope to serve the community again and bring forth the same passion and energy that I brought forward last time on issues that I care about and the community as a whole cares about.”
While Curzio is aware his name in Carmel is synonymous with the hullabaloo that went on during his tenure on the board, he hopes the community will place their trust in him to always listen, learn and do the right thing for both the students, faculty, and residents.
Curzio was the subject of much controversy and infighting the board experienced as the district attempted to put forth an $85 million bond package that included numerous updates to the grounds and the construction of a new bus garage in Kent. The proposition was later approved after a third vote and Curzio’s ouster from the board.
Curzio had lost his re-election bid to current school board member Eric Mittelstadt, someone Curzio had expelled from the board when he ran and won in 2016. When Curzio sought his first election to the board where he promised to fight for fiscal responsibility and against Common Core, it resulted in him garnering the most votes that night.
However, his strong opinions that often differed from the remaining, longer-term trustees resulted in heated debates that kept Board of Education meetings going for several hours into the night. Residents would also argue with and criticize the young trustee to change his mind on many issues during the public meetings, but Curzio made a point to maintain his composure throughout and offer thorough reasons behind his decisions.
“In any representing body, whether it be a town board or school board, it’s good to have different opinions and I think healthy debate with differing ideas is good for the community and democracy,” Curzio said. “But some of the discourse was unfortunate and some of the perception painted of me being a ‘no’ person or someone who wanted to blow up the system wasn’t accurate.”
Curzio said he felt like a “lonely voice” on the board, adding he always ensured he kept a respectful dynamic during public discourse regardless of the response he received.
But months before his ouster from the board, trustees collectively attempted to remove him with claims he violated state education laws during contentious meetings where the bond was discussed. It was later determined following a disciplinary hearing that Curzio’s actions did not warrant his removal from the board.
“That hearing I felt in the first place was very unfortunate that it happened,” Curzio said. “I’m proud to follow my conscience as I feel is right and communicate with our community and I feel going forward that I’m always going to want to speak to the community and I think that’s important.”
If elected next Tuesday, Curzio said he has a six-point plan that includes ensuring fiscal responsibility by allocating each taxpayer dollar with the same care as it were his own; necessitating transparency in school board meetings and the budget process; affording a state-of-the-art education to prepare students for 21st century higher education and career paths; and ensuring greater respect for every student, staff member, district resident and taxpayer.
Additionally, Curzio wants to improve communication with local town and county governments to prompt better working relationships and always be accessible to the people as a faithful representative on the school board.
“During my time on the board, I was the unofficial liaison between the board and town governments and that has since stopped,” Curzio said. “We have seen with the bus garage that breakdown with communication and that it doesn’t work.”
In recent years, the Kent Town Board has taken issue with the Carmel Board of Education for not consulting them on a plan to place a new bus depot on Kent’s tax rolls. However, as it was explained to Kent officials by the district’s attorney, the school board isn’t obligated to consult the town board if the district wants to build on town land, per state law.
Curzio stressed that while the board has made good strides since his departure, communication has been an issue over the last year, especially with the parents, he said, noting how the reopening of schools and next steps forward were botched. He said parents were getting conflicting answers, asserting how it’s something the district needs to work on and improve.
“I always want to be accessible with communication,” Curzio said. “Hearing peoples concerns and representing them regardless and having open lines of communication and communicating everyone’s concerns is a priority. In the end, we all have the same goal.”
Along with Curzio, newcomers Melissa Orser and Tamara Harrison hope to hear enough support to represent the board. Board President Michele Yorio and Trustee Jason Paraskeva are running for re-election, but Trustee Richard Kreps is not.
“As a board member you really get to see the positive differences that are being made and even during the three years on the board, I got to really see the progress that was made,” Curzio said. “I love Carmel schools and I want to give back to the Carmel school community.”