The Putnam Examiner

Curzio Won’t Be Ousted From Carmel School Board

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By Anna Young and David Propper

Carmel Board of Education member John Curzio declared victory last week after it was decided he would not be removed from the school board for his vocal opposition of the district’s failed $85 million bond project.

During last Tuesday’s board meeting, board president Greg Riley announced that while Curzio committed “official misconduct” when he spoke personally against the bond during videotaped meetings, his actions didn’t warrant his removal from the board.

“The effort to run me off the School Board has failed,” said Curzio, a 20-year- old college student who graduated from Carmel schools. “I pledge to those who elected me that I shall not be silenced or intimidated. Instead, I will re-double my efforts to fully inform all taxpayers of what this school board is doing with their money.”

The controversy surrounding Curzio started last year when the board in a 5-2 vote decided to hold a disciplinary hearing to determine if Curzio violated state education laws. Board members who voted for the hearing alleged that Curzio used district resources and acted in neglect of his official duties when he encouraged voters during videotaped meetings to reject two bond proposals that were sharply defeated last December. The board also charged that Curzio read a letter to the editor written by a Kent resident against the capital projects and said he agreed with the author’s statements.

A disciplinary hearing was held in January, in which attorney Jeffrey Selchick presided as the hearing officer. During the hearing, Curzio defended his actions, stating he was never approached by his colleagues about his conduct during meetings, delivered accurate information and emphasized what his opinion was.

Selchick, in a report to the board, recommended that Curzio should not be removed from the board for his actions. Board members unanimously approved the recommendation during the June 19 meeting (Curzio abstained from the vote).

The fight between Curzio and the rest of the school board resulted in several heated meetings where residents, school officials and former and current elected officials either criticized Curzio or the board for their actions. Supporters of Curzio accused the board of acting like bullies and looking to silence dissent, while critics argued Curzio inappropriately opposed the bond proposals.

Curzio and the rest of the board have long been at odds, with Curzio complaining at a June 5 meeting that board members roll their eyes, text on their phones and regularly interrupt him while he’s speaking. Board members have panned Curzio for his incendiary statements at meetings, out in the public and on social media in the past.

In an interview, vice president of the school board, Richard Kreps, said he supported the decision of the school board not to remove Curzio, noting he doesn’t think the state education commissioner would have upheld his ouster. Kreps stressed even though he won’t be removed, the hearing officer did find fault with the way Curzio conducted himself leading up to the Dec. 11 bond vote.

“I thought it was an appropriate decision,” Kreps said. “People who were upset that John came to their house and dropping off pamphlets and fliers under their doors, the hearing gave them something to look at, to make a determination. People who were upset we were going to remove him should also feel somewhat vindicated because we didn’t remove him.”

The uproar caught the attention of famed civil rights attorney, Michael Sussman, who wound up representing Curzio.

Sussman criticized the school board for wasting taxpayer resources to remove

Curzio from the school board, adding that Curzio was within his rights and acted responsibly when he expressed his opinion. He added that it’s unsound and foolish that a board member would be accused of misconduct for expressing their opinion at an official meeting the board has chosen to record.

“Claiming that school board members cannot express their opinions on such matters at a public meeting for fear of committing official misconduct is absurd and a sure way to chill opposition to those forces which currently control our failing public education system,” Sussman said. “To claim that John engaged in ‘official misconduct’ because he spoke at a meeting which the Board video-taped for the benefit of the community strikes me as ludicrous.”

Kreps said he wishes Sussman did not offer disparaging remarks following the decision as the district and board looks to move on.

“I think people that use inflammatory language, it’s unfortunate,” Kreps said. “They really should accept the decision, he should accept the decision as made and not create anymore disparaging wording against the district or the board.”

Coincidentally, perhaps, on the same night Curzio was cleared for his conduct connected to speaking out against the bonds, the board voted 6-1 in support of another voter referendum for a bond set for later this year. Almost poetically, the sole no vote was Curzio.

“I will continue to responsibly discharge my duties,” Curzio said. “The district must be run in a fiscally-prudent manner. I remain fully committed to that objective.”

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