After more than three hours of interviews, deliberations and votes Tuesday, the board of education unanimously approved the appointment of resident Daniel Petrozelli to the vacant spot, citing that he will bring a different perspective to the board.
“I am excited by the potential of a new perspective, somebody with different experiences,” said board of education member Lynne Hurley. “I feel like this process pushed my thinking in another direction.”
A total of 10 candidates were on hand to be part of the interview process, which involved 10 minutes reserved for each candidate, including an opening statement to answer three board-created questions, followed by individual questions from the board members.
The new appointee will , who resigned from the board in September.
“I commend this board, that was an incredible process we went through,” said Superintendent of Schools Michael Schilder. “With questions and how much was done publicly, the way this was handled was with respect and dignity of everyone who came through tonight.”
Candidates for the evening, aside from Petrozelli, were residents Jackie Barlow, Kendall Blythe, Melanie Thiesse, Andrea Pellegrino, Raja Das, Steven Charewycz, Hao Song, Terri Yessman and Raj Dave.
After going through the process of the interviews, board members expressed their opinions in public session about their choices for the vacant spot, nominating Petrozelli, Barlow, Thiesse, Dave and Song.
Multiple votes narrowed the choices down to Petrozelli and Barlow, when the vote remained split at three each, with some board members saying they were in favor of appointing Barlow because of her experience volunteering on committees in the district, and being a part of the school community.
“I still feel it is my duty to appoint someone who I feel is most qualified,” said board of education member Jill Gladstone. “My role is to look for qualifications, and I feel that someone who knows a little more about the process, how the schools are run and how the budgets are developed [is best].”
“It would be nice to have a fresh face, but I am thinking of the qualifications and service, and the way Jackie has served,” she added.
The board continued to vote, with Gladstone and board of education vice president Patrick Breslin being the only ones to vote for Barlow instead of Petrozelli. For a new member to be appointed, a majority vote was required, and with only six members present at the meeting, a majority of five was needed—toward the end, the vote stood at 4-2.
If the board had been unable to get a majority vote, the options were to either wait a few more days so as to bring in the missing two board members within the 65-day window required to appoint a new member after one resigns, or to allow the county superintendent to make the decision for the board.
Members said they did not want to turn the vote over to the county, and board president Evan Lerner said he would not be in favor of allowing the missing two board members—Arvind Mathur and Cindy Cullen—to vote because they had not heard the remarks from all the candidates.
After the final four rounds of voting that left the board still split between Petrozelli and Barlow, board of education member Jeffrey Brookner questioned whether someone would make a motion to appoint one of the two instead. Brookner made the motion to appoint Petrozelli as the new board member.
The board unanimously agreed.
“I know the statute says we need five votes,” Gladstone said. “And in the interest of looking at the numbers and seeing where everything is falling, I will vote yes.”
Petrozelli, who took the oath of office after the meeting, said he brings to the board a diverse background and experience from his time in the military, as well as other interests. And, he said, he is a member of his local union as an electrician.
“I have a broad background,” he said during his interview before the board. “I have a commitment to public education, what has made this country great and what will make the country great in the future. And I have a desire to help the community.”
In answer to the board’s question about what changes he would make to the district, Petrozelli said he would like to see the learning of two languages—with English being the obvious— become mandatory for all students early on in their educational careers. And, he said, he knows the redistricting of the schools and the contracts currently begin negotiated are the biggest issues being dealt with by the board right now.
“I would like to be part of that, and to help solve some problems,” he said. “The redistricting issue is going to be a big one, tough to solve.”
“As far as the languages issue, I understand there are costs that come with that,” he added. “I am not naïve to the cost problems as a taxpayer.”
As a union member himself, although not with a teachers’ union, Petrozelli said he believes it is a double-edged sword in dealing with contract negotiations.
“I have been a union member for years, and I have taken four pay freezes,” he said. “As a taxpayer and seeing taxes rise, I see the other side of it and I understand. And I understand people want a contract, it’s the knowledge of knowing what the future holds for you.”
Petrozelli said he also believes in the importance of bringing life lessons to the district.
“As many life skills as I can translate to students as possible would be big,” he said. “I know I wouldn’t have one-on-one dealings with students, but if there is something that could be encouraged or passed down, we need to do that.”
“I’m an instructor and I teach 20-year-olds as electricians,” he added. “You would be surprised at what’s out there, some people are prepared and some are clueless. There are many life experiences I could teach them.”
Several board members said they are looking forward to the life experiences Petrozelli will bring to the board.
“He was most intriguing to me, just really something resonated with me as being something this board lacks,” Brookner said. “He is something like the salt-of-the-earth regular guy, an electrician who’s made good on life and likes to help people improve themselves. I think a different perspective would improve the board.”
“We don’t have someone in a trade on the board,” he said. “I like to make this board better, and I think diversity is good toward that end.”
Petrozelli will serve for the next six months with a term ending in April, when he will be invited to run for a full term on the board in the annual school board elections.