20 Questions with New Rochelle Board of Education Candidate William Ianuzzi

Written By: Robert Cox

1. The budget was approved by the board unanimously on April 23rd.  If you had been on the board on that day, how would you have voted and why?

If I had been on the BOE I would have voted yes on this budget. The budget does not bust the cap, it had the input from residents from the Budget Café, input from Principals and adds priority positions. The greatest part of this budget is the forecast built regarding future year priorities.

2. Currently, most of the top administrative positions in the District are held on an interim basis; come July 1st, four board members will have been replaced in 12 months, 7 of 9 board members will be in their first term in office and 6 of those 7 will have just two years on the board. Speak to the issue of stability as it applies to the administration and the board the impact on recruiting senior-level administrators.

We can all agree stability has been sorely missing in our district over the last 18 months. Dysfunction cannot be our norm. We have the opportunity this election to usher in some change where we bring the Board’s focus back to our student’s education. The first step in doing that is to make sure the board fills these interim positions, crafts a working relationship with the new Superintendent based on mutual respect and with the goal of making sure our students are successful. If we are perceived as unstable and dysfunctional then we are putting ourselves in the position where we will not be as competitive regarding hiring compared to other districts.

3. The Superintendent Search was run by the current school board President who will no longer be on the board after June 30th. As a new board member, you will inherit his recommendation for a new Superintendent along with a new School Business Official and NRHS Principal. Would you support the board postponing a decision on these critical hires until after a new board is seated even if that meant filling key positions on an interim basis for another year?

As I stated above, I believe stability is necessary in our district right now. We need a permanent Superintendent to bring the focus back on our students’ education. I would like to see the Superintendent hired and in her/his position by July 1st.  I would not support postponing the decision.

4. There was a recent board discussion about the demands placed on board members in the context of reducing board terms from 5 years to 3 years. Would you support shorter terms? Would you support term limits? Would you support a $10,000 annual stipend for board members?

I would support 3-year terms. If we had 3-year terms, like in Mount Vernon, White Plains and Eastchester, we would see every year 3 candidates up for election. This would give the community more accountability over our Board. It would also give our BOE members shorter terms to decided if they would want to continue being on the board instead of missing multiple BOE meetings.

I do not support stipends.

5. There has been a great deal of discussion over the past 16 months regarding School Resource Officers. What is your position on school security generally and SROs in particular?

Working at the Boys & Girls Club for the past 7 years I understand that Physical and Emotional Safety is one of the most important issues affecting our students. Over the last year since the multiple violent incidents at NRHS I have had many conversations with my High School members at work about their feelings and state of mind. All those incidents were extremely impactful not just to our students but to the community. Hearing them tell me they don’t feel safe or this is just the new normal, infuriates me because no kid should have to go to school feeling unsafe or unprotected. We live in such an amazing city with one of the best high schools in the country. I graduated NRHS in 2010 and my experiences do not match with what our students our experiencing today.

When the Task-force came out with their recommendations I spoke with several members on the task-force and parents in the community about their feelings and the topic with the most disagreement was School Resource Officers (SROs). I completely understand why. Working at the Boys & Girls Club for 7 years and being Director of the Mascaro Clubhouse for 5 of those years I have been able to meet, befriend, and be exposed to so many different people in our community with different backgrounds. For so many of our students having an officer in the school can be a scary prospect: for our Latinx students who might be undocumented or family members might be, or our Black students who have seen people their age and who look like them, negatively impacted by their experiences with police officers.

Before we continue talking about this issue, we all need to understand that: (1) An SRO will not deter all instances of violence in the school; (2) In many instances’ students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBTQIA students are disproportionately impacted by school-based arrests for the same behavior as their peers; (3) Students who enter the criminal justice system will most likely see their chance of graduation, entering higher education, and getting a job significantly decreased; (4) We need to look at physical and emotional safety as a holistic approach and not piecemeal. We need to have our Social and Emotional programs introduced before an SRO program.

We need to create a balance of physical safety and emotional safety for our students. If I am elected to the board, I would be open to an SRO program with a strict Memorandum of Understanding between the City School District of New Rochelle, the City of New Rochelle and the New Rochelle Police Department. After saying this though I would want more information then I currently have regarding have successful SRO programs have been around the country and in other districts in Westchester County.

We all want is best for our children. The School District wants to ensure all students have access to a safe and effective learning environment, while an SRO program should: (1) Provide a safe learning environment in our school; (2) Provide valuable resources to our school staff members; (3) Foster positive relationships with youth; (4) Develop strategies to resolve problems affecting youth

The Memorandum of Understanding I would propose would contain the following: (1) The number one goal of this agreement is to keep students on track to graduate with their records unblemished; (2) Emphasize resolving discipline issues without criminal punishment. An SRO should only intervene when absolutely necessary. The School and its staff will be the primary source of intervention and disciplinary consequences; (3) An SRO is present to not only be a safety presence but also as a mentor, counselor, and friend to our students not the main authority figure in the school. The SRO should be a vehicle to bridge the gap between law enforcement and youth; (4) Yearly training’s for the SRO on when to intervene in situations, as well as training regarding emotional intelligence; (5) Many types of minor student misbehavior’s might meet the requirements for non-violent misdemeanors but might be best handled outside of the criminal justice system; (6) In addition to an SRO our district must continue to invest in guidance counselors and social workers, emotional and mental health services and overhaul of our security training for our Security Guards.

While I do not have any children of my own, I have been fortunate to assist in raising and advocating for so many of the 100s of kids I have worked with over the last 7 years. 3 years ago, I received training from the Yale Center of Emotional Intelligence regarding Social Emotional Learning and Emotional Intelligence and my perspectives changed on a lot of the decisions I was making. Students are crying out for help now more than ever. We need to do more to help them and I believe the policies above can assist with that.

6. It has been a long-standing board policy (and practice) that New Rochelle High School is a “closed campus”? Although the policy has never changed, the practice was changed two years ago to a de facto open campus policy. This became a major issue after the death of Valaree Schwab. Would you vote to rescind this policy or not? Why?

I graduated NRHS in 2010 and I remember when we left campus we had to sneak out or risk getting in house suspension. Not enforcing the closed campus policy was not in the best interest of our students. I would offer a closed campus policy for our 9th-11th grade and allow 12th grade in good standing be able to leave.

This issue comes down to more than being a closed campus. Scheduling is one of the biggest problems I see right now at NRHS. Why do some of our 9th & 10th graders have free periods during the day? The more free periods our students have, the greater opportunity they have to want to leave campus.

7. The demands on school board members have increased exponentially over the past decade or so starting with moving meetings out of City Hall to the school buildings, then adding principal presentations, then adding student performances, then adding various board sub-committees like a Policy Committee, then adding a School Buddy program, then adding ad hoc committees like Culture & Climate which meet during the school day. Is this a concern and, if so, how would you address it?

Before I decided to run, I knew the time commitment I was signing up for if elected. These committees and School buddy programs help educate Board Members on what exactly is going on in our schools. I am a member of the Advocacy and Community Outreach Committee where those meetings are during the day from 10am-12pm. I would look a moving some of the committee meetings to after work and not during the day to allow for more segments of the community to attend.

8. There is an ongoing residency verification program. Do you support residency verification?

I support residency verification and would support random rotating grade verification each year.

9. Since the law changed from appointed to elected school board members, over 90% of school board members have resided within elementary school districts that feed into Albert Leonard Middle School (i.e., North End). Would you support any change to any of this? Would you support elections by districts so that every elementary school district has one representative on the school board?

We have a perception problem in our school district. Most consider our North End Schools to have better facilities and better educational opportunities. I believe that having a board that does not reflect the entire community fuels this perception problem. I would be open to the possibility of having elections by district.

10. You wake up late. There is no time to go through your typical morning routine. What do you do about breakfast?  Where do you eat it? What do you eat?

If I am running late and rushing, there is only one place I am going and that is Joes Deli in the West End on Fourth Street! I would get a Bacon, Egg and Cheese Sandwich with Salt, Pepper and Ketchup.

If I do have time, I love going to the New Rochelle Diner for either some Pancakes and Eggs or an Omelets.

11. The board typically spends months holding entire meetings solely on the budget. These are discussions on where the District plans to spend money. The board spends only a fraction of one meeting each fall on the auditor’s report which covers actual spending (audited financials). The audited financials are not released well in advance of the meeting. There are no public hearings. Would you support a more involved public process to review and discuss the audited financials, perhaps incorporating a review of actual spending into projected spending?

Yes, I would support a more open process with continuous updates to the public in regard to our actual spending compared to our projected spending.

12. The City School District of New Rochelle spends large sums of money on outside counsel for legal services, in the neighborhood of $1,000,000 a year. Some of the legal services are highly specialized so hiring specialists may make sense for certain work but much of the work is routine. Would you support hiring an in-house legal staff (like the City of New Rochelle has done for many years) to handle routine matters to reduce District legal expenses?

Yes, I would support an in-house legal staff. I think we need to start moving away from outside contracted services as general practice like we have been seeing regarding our Literacy Coaches and some of the work being done in our Technology department.

13. Under New York State law, in-district busing of elementary school students in New Rochelle is partially reimbursable for distances over 1.5 miles. Still, there are benefits to busing students under 1.5 miles despite the lack of reimbursement (student safety, lifestyle benefit to parents, traffic reduction especially around the schools, lower greenhouse gas emissions, etc.). Also, not every student eligible for busing under 1.5 miles would take the bus as they may live close enough where walking is a preferred option and of those who do accept there be existing empty seats on currently scheduled routes. To understand the economics and various pros and cons, would you support commissioning a study to evaluate the feasibility of Universal Pre-K to 5 busing?

Yes, I would support this study but also expand it to look at the cost of in-district busing for our middle schools instead of relying on the Bee Line Buses.

14. With the prevalence of social media and online discussion, and a growing interest and awareness of issues regarding our schools, would you support more frequent and accessible communication? Are you satisfied with the methods, frequency and transparency of communication employed by the district. Suggest three ways it could be improved.

Yes, I would support for frequent and accessible communication. As a member of the Advocacy and Community Outreach Committee we have started the process to look at how our communication is not up to par for our district: (1) Our district currently uses different platforms for communication with parents and the community and I am happy to say we are in the process of moving to one platform that has more advanced features to communicate; (2) Many community members receive a lot of information about our schools at Board Meetings. If BOE meetings are not accessible to the public to understand what is happening in the district, then we are doing something wrong. The A&O committee spent an entire meeting dissecting our BOE meetings and have come up with suggestions to increase substantive discussions between our BOE members for the public to understand why most decisions are made; (3) The largest growing community in New Rochelle is our Latinx community. Being able to have accessible communication with a large segment of our community is important. The work we are doing on the A&O committee is supporting this. We have already made the district newsletter bilingual and are currently recommending having our Spanish versions of our Hardcopy calendars.

15. To what degree have you been involved with the New Rochelle School District over the past 10 years? As a parent? As a PTA member? Volunteer? Vendor? Prior to 2019, how often have you attended board of education meetings? Other?

I graduated NRHS in 2010 and grew up in our school district. My entire adult life has been dedicated to serving the Youth of New Rochelle. Starting at age 19 I started working at the Boys & Girls Club of New Rochelle, first as a Youth Development Professional. At age 21 I became the youngest Mascaro (Feeney Park) Clubhouse Director in the history of the organization, have been the director of the BGCNR Summer Camp for 3 years and am currently the Director of Program Services for the entire organization. With my position at the Club I have been involved with our schools for many years, working with Principals in expanding our programming and to increase the availability of extended care for many.

I am always attending NRHS sports games supporting my High School members and always attending special events like Family University, the Latino Leadership Conference and College Night.

I am currently facilitating a Boys & Girls Club Student Council program once a week during the day Columbus Elementary School with over 20 5th graders.

I have attended our BOE meetings on and off for many years but after the incidents last January I have been more regularly attending.

16. What are your thoughts on the T&M investigation related to Apex Online Learning?

The entire scandal is a negative mark on our school district. Accountability was missing, which led to illegal grade changes. This shouldn’t have happened.

17. The New York State School Board Association identifies three primary responsibilities of school boards (financial oversight, policy, hiring and firing of senior level staff) with the budget being the biggest responsibility. Given this, and that if you win a full term, you will be responsible for spending over $1.5 billion dollars of other people’s money, describe your level of financial literacy. What about your background has prepared you to evaluate and adopt (or not) a budget with hundreds of millions in expenses?

After high school I attended Mercy College where I received my bachelor’s degree in public accounting where I completed some of the following classes: Financial Accounting, Managerial Accounting, Cost Accounting, Government and Non for Profit Accounting, Computer Applications for Accounting, Advanced Accounting, Advanced Federal Income Tax Accounting, Auditing and Assurance Services.

Throughout my time at the Boys & Girls Club I have been responsible for managing Clubhouse financial resources, assisting in the development of annual budgets, completing New York State Afterschool Advantage Grant Reports.

18. The board adopted a strategic road before your term would begin. You had no say in it but would operate under it. Identify three elements of the strategic road map that you feel the board got right (and why). Identify up to three (if any) elements that you would change or drop altogether (and why)? In your answer, address your experience in developing, implementing and measuring progress towards long range plans and objectives?

The second objective of the strategic road map is one of the more important elements and that is Safe and Supportive Schools. Having positive Social/Emotional Programs and well working Restorative Justice programs can make a huge difference in the lives of our students. I have a background in Youth Development and have been trained at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and have received training from Boys & Girls Club of America in regards to Trauma Informed Care, Emotional Safety and Preventing Youth Suicide and have an understanding on how these programs can create positive impacts on our students.

The fourth objective Engagement and Outreach is another important element. We live in one of the most diverse and wealthiest districts in the country. If we are not engaging our community and creating partnerships, we are not doing our jobs properly. I am the Secretary for the New Rochelle Council of Community Services, the umbrella organization for all Community Service agencies in New Rochelle.

One of the objectives I believe we need to examine more and work better on is Student Learning regarding STEM. With the technological innovations in our country we need to highlight complementary programs and classes. Robotics and Coding need to be added as a central part of our curriculum. Another addition we should invest in is the creation of maker spaces in our schools.

19. Having by now completed many years of your own education, describe your various learning experiences over the course of your lifetime (in school but not exclusively), which had the most meaning to you? How do you continue to work to expand your understanding of the world around you as part of your personal learning experience?

Every year I get to attend Boys & Girls Club of America Conferences where I not only learn so much about the current state of the youth in our country, but I get to talk to people from all around the country. It is the best learning experience I can get.

The other great learning experience I get is working with High School members at work. Talking to them about problems they are facing in life and at school puts my work into perspective. I love my job because I get to make positive impacts on the lives of my members and hopefully have them leave with great memories.

20. What are the skills and experiences you will bring to the school board, if elected.

I believe I have two main attributes I offer as a candidate: (1) Collaboration- I have experience collaborating with Principal’s in the schools to expand programming and experience collaborating with other Youth Serving organizations; (2) I am the Boots on the Ground Candidate. I work directly with the youth of New Rochelle, I am the first person the kids in my afterschool program see every day, the first to help them with homework and the first to hear how their day has been.

BONUS QUESTION: Anything else you feel voters should know about you when they go to the polls on May 21st?

In 2015, at 23 years old, I was recognized as a Boys & Girls Club of America Maytag Dependable Leader for my “demonstrated dedication to keeping youth on the path to achieve great futures.” According to the Boys and Girls Club of America, the award recognizes employees that “are committed to make a difference as dependable and exceptional role models.” I was one of just 11 winners around the nation who were bestowed with the honor by Maytag. As such, the New Rochelle Boys and Girls Club was issued a $20,000 financial grant that provided four club members $5,000 scholarships to pursue a college education.

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