20 Questions with New Rochelle School Board Candidate Steve DiDonato

Written By: Robert Cox

Campaign Website

  1. Would you support a more involved public process to review and discuss the annual audited financials, perhaps incorporating a review of actual spending into projected spending? Explain.

We need to have a budget that is understandable for everybody. There are mandated expenses that we have no say over, but there are ways that we can be open and honest about what we are spending. We need to be able to justify why that expenditure is beneficial.

  1. Would you support hiring an in-house legal staff to handle routine matters to reduce District legal expenses? Explain.

More than open to it. I do not understand how and why we do not have in-house counsel already. It would be cost effective and guarantees that we have consistency and more control with our legal representation. There is an advantage of having council how works for us as opposed to representing us by virtue of a contract agreement. The bottom line is that we should do what is best for operations and what is most cost effective for our tax payers.

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

As a Parent of three daughters who have been a product of the New Rochelle School District and Proud of their success thanks to the education they received from our very schools here in New Rochelle , I want to help other children achieve what my children have achieved. I am a tax paying homeowner who would be mindful of what and where the monies collected for the schools go and after my experience as the President and Vice president of the Glenwood Lake association nestled in the Webster Magnet School area I value the ability to deliver what is equal and fair to all the students. My 15 years as an electrician at NBC I was part of a maintenance team providing services to our clients in all aspects of the business from Studio to Viewers with the value of the truth being number one in what the people expect and should receive.

  1. Under Dr. Feijóo, since January, the District has refused to fill Freedom of Information requests and, since March, disallowed public comments at regular school board meetings. What is your position on the Board’s role in enforcing transparency?

The district has demonstrated one thing over the years. While they recognize and throw the word “transparency” around very casually, they are not familiar with what the term means. This is demonstrated time after time. Ultimately they force the hand of people like Bob Cox to continue to prove and dig.

It is shameful that as a district and as a board, we can not be honest with the very people that we are elected to represent and advocate for.

  1. What do you see is the first immediate priority of the school board? Looking out to the end of what would be your term in office, list three outcomes not currently under consideration by the board, that you would like to see accomplished by 2025.

This answer might change as the day does. The reason being is because with each day there is yet another issue.

The Hiring of a permanent NRHS Principal should be a priority. How long should our flagship building sit with interim leadership?

We should also be considering restructuring our high school. The House System could be utilized with more oversight. The size has proven to be unmanageable. The same can be said for our middle schools. Is there a way to keep our cohorts together from a younger age?

We also need to revisit the discussion on the SRO program. Our children and teachers are worth the investment in the best security available.

  1. Do you support retaining or removing Superintendent Dr. Laura Feijóo?

Dr. Feijoo came in with a lot of controversy and a lot of promise. She has not been the stabilizing force that many of us hoped she would be. In a perfect world, she would be gone.

  1. There has been significant “Black Flight” from the New Rochelle public schools since 2010, with about 650 Black students now “missing”, how would you propose the Board address Black Flight?

Any flight is an issue. If parents are not comfortable keeping their children in our schools for any reason that should be considered OUR failure. We need to repair that. That will be a challenge that I hope to address.

  1. Would you support commissioning a study to evaluate the feasibility of Universal Pre-K to 5 busing?

Yes. There is no harm in exploring sound options.The idea of Universal bussing has a lot benefits. It addresses safety and congestion in and around the buildings. Particularly during the A.M. rush and afternoon dismissal. It also could be a part of our district wide green initiatives.

  1. There was a great deal of controversy earlier this school year regarding former head football Coach Lou DeRienzo. What are your thoughts on the matter?

Lou DiRienzo was trying to protect a family member. There are a lot of people who would not think twice about family first. He was a very highly respected, accomplished and influential member of the district for decades. Yet there must have been some policy that he violated. So I do understand how a decision may have been unavoidable.I do think that it could have been handled better. Fortunately , this issue has been laid to rest. I do hope that there are things that we can all learn from it.

  1. The District recently announced the hiring of Adofo Muhammad as the new NRHS Principal who then subsequently withdrew. What are your thoughts on that situation?

As far as I know, Mr. Muhammad declined the offer. At this point there is nothing more to say.

  1. The District plans on moving the Alternative High School from St Gabriel’s Church to Bethesda Baptist Church of New Rochelle. What are your thoughts on that?

The facility is best suited for our kids today should be the one we use. Disrupting something that seems to be working makes little sense to me. If Bethesda is a better site, we’d have to consider it. From what I have gathered that’s not the case. If this is a move to placate a few individuals in the community, I could not support a move.

If the move is necessary for reasons outside of my scope of understanding, then there might be reason to support a move. Maybe there are other sites that need consideration.

  1. The COVID-19 pandemic has raised many issues but two of the prominent for the District are Food Distribution and Distance Learning. Address those two points specifically and your thoughts on the District’s pandemic response generally.

The food distribution was handled in a manner that has raised many issues. There was poor coordination, and communication. There were also some very dangerous decisions that did have people exposed to Covid positive people.

We could have done better.

Furthermore, the necessity to feed people who simply didn’t qualify for free school lunch might be considered charitable, but it was unnecessary.

The distance learning initiative was forced on school districts all over the country. From what I’ve gathered, there was not much direction from the top down. Then there was a great deal of confusion.

We didn’t equip all of our students with Chromebooks soon enough, and the policies were less than stellar.

I recognize that the teachers were working hard. My daughter is a teacher as well, so I am familiar with the amount of time that was required to ensure as much success as possible. We can only improve ourselves if we are willing to be reflective and critical.

  1. The demands on school board members have increased exponentially over the past decade. Is this a concern for you and, if so, how would you address it? Would you support shorter terms, shorter board meetings, less “required” non-boarding meeting activities, annual stipends?

Shorter terms can be a blessing or a mistake. A sound school board needs to have an understanding of the history of the system. They need to know what we have done in the past, and what successes or failures came as a result.

I suppose that the length of term is only an issue if the board is failing.

Annual stipends could also break the same way. While this position is presently not stipended, and I am running for a seat, I would not think that it’s not fair for me to run, potentially get elected, and then vote myself a stipend. The idea by itself is not necessarily a bad one.

  1. Since the law changed from appointed to elected school board members, over 90% of school board members have resided within North End elementary school districts. What are your thoughts on this?

Ideally the board would be more representative of New Rochelle’s geographic diversity. By not having board members from all corners of our city, it might leave some people out of the discussion, and feeling disregarded.

However, forcing districts in the BOE, like our city council might leave some of our brightest minds out.

I’d like to see more across the board participation, citywide. That can all start with more open access to meetings, and not stonewalling communication.

  1. COVID-19 is scary, and with good reason, but many people have learned quite a bit about their own minor weaknesses or idiosyncrasies during the crisis. What is something the pandemic caused you to realize about yourself that in hindsight you took for granted and have now changed? (try to have a little “fun” with this question)

Losing so many thousands of lives and living in an essential quarantine has been quite the experience. I’ve always valued my family and friends. And the thought of any of them falling ill or victim to Covid was heart wrenching.

It has given me and my family the opportunity to be more present with each other.

  1. To what degree have you been involved with the New Rochelle School District over the past 10 years? Prior to 2019-20, how often have you attended New Rochelle Board of Education meetings?

I have always been civically active. I have attended board meetings and council meetings over the years for various reasons.

Sometimes in celebration, sometimes to protest to what is going on in the schools or city. I’ve always enjoyed this connection.

As a recent retiree, I now have the time, and still have the desire to contribute to making the schools and by default the city a place to be proud of again.

  1. What are your thoughts on Apex Grade Inflation Investigations?

This is a stone that still needs to be turned over and addressed. These unscrupulous findings with the grade fixing scandal really damages our integrity. While closing the achievement gap is an important task, the attempts to improve graduation rates and effectively close that gap should never have been done so unethically. Here is an example of poor modeling of behavior. We should be practicing the same standards that we expect our children to hold sacred.This was an epic systemic failure.

  1. Do you think Board Members should be allowed to take jobs with the District or its vendors upon leaving the school board?

There should be a policy in place that strictly prohibits this practice. It is a conflict of interest.

  1. If you win a seat, you will be responsible for spending about $1.5 billion dollars of other people’s money over the next 5 years. What is your level of financial literacy and how does it apply to this responsibility?

I am not a financial advisor nor do I pretend to be. I am a Taxpayer and a person who knows how hard it is for a dollar to be made in this country. We need to spend other people’s money wisely, with clear reason,and provide final results that are made public to all. I will want to know every detail of the expenditures that we are responsible for and hold a check and balance system.

  1. The board operates under a “strategic road map”. 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)?

I have heard a great deal about the strategic roadmap, but I am not so sure that it has been functional or practical at all.

It states: “The City School District of New Rochelle, through an active partnership amongst community, parents, staff and students, will provide a high quality and challenging education for every child, in a safe, nurturing environment that embraces our rich diversity and drives our success.”

Yet we have had students killed and injured, large portions of the community feeling isolated and unheard, organized cheating with the APEX scandal, and more.

I could go on, but you get the point. This roadmap is no more than hollow words. Zero substance.

BONUS QUESTION: Anything else you feel voters should know about you when they go to the polls on June 9th?

I have been a resident of the City of New Rochelle for over 35 years. I take pride in my City, my Neighborhood, my fellow citizens and will not be intimidated by anyone who does not have the same values for our children that they are justifiably deserving.


Will you vote for the budget?


Do you have anything to say about the mail-in ballot distribution snafu?

It’s why the whole crew needs to go.