When answers are needed, stonewalling and hostile behavior hurts everyone
Tuesday night, we saw one of the more egregious examples of a public body and public school administration showing not just a lack of respect for parents, students and taxpayers, but frankly, utter contempt for those daring to ask about a series of disturbing events, including a formal investigation by the Chester County District Attorney’s Office.
I am referring to Tuesday night’s Coatesville Area School District Board of Education committee meeting, which was, to put it kindly, not exactly a bravura performance.
This was a meeting where, according to the reporting of our Kyle Carrozza, administrators and the members of the Board of Education either repeatedly recited a short “no comment” on personnel matters or, worse, apparently, just glaring at residents — taxpayers — for having the temerity to ask questions about their school district, in the wake of the sudden resignation of Superintendent of Schools Richard Como and Coatesville Area High School Athletic Director Jim Donato.
Understanding that the matter is under investigation, there are limits to what district officials and board members can say. But instead of acknowledging that some problems exist, accepting responsibility to get to the bottom of things, and pledging to do better, the district is stonewalling the public and hoping people lose interest before returning to business as usual.
Except, of course, that won’t be happening.
This publication and others have filed multiple Right To-Know requests in recent weeks — for simple data such as a payroll list (public record obtained effortlessly from numerous other local government entities), a copy of Como’s contract, and the transcript of district cell phone messages, alleged to contain numerous ethnic slurs. An unconfirmed partial transcript of the alleged texts was provided to The Times through unofficial sources.
While we cannot confirm the validity of the texts, either their provenance or original source — some of the numbers listed do match up with district-issued cell phones. And if the messages are accurate, reprehensible does not begin to describe them.
We did get Como’s contract, which you can download and read here. The other two requests stalled for “legal review,” a 30-day extension of the normal five-day window for response. We will be making more in the coming days.
The truth will come out, even if it is bit-by-bit, and piece-by-piece — sadly, the slower the process, the worse for the community and school district as a whole. And when the facts do surface, we suspect the picture will not be pretty and one that will tell a story of systematic nepotism, a failure of the school board to keep administrators accountable, and at best questionable financial management of an at-risk district.
You know things are bad when the prospect of a state takeover of the district, as seen in Chester-Upland and Philadelphia (with disastrous results) seems like a better option to some residents. Or when residents of municipalities bordering other school districts are openly asking how to get out of the CASD and join more stable, better managed neighboring districts.
The board and the administration can blame the media (as has already happened any time we report something even slightly unsavory, including this most recent episode), or “rabble-rousers” in the public.
Taxpayers have every right to demand that the finger-pointing end: The board and administration need to come clean right away – a process that should involve cleaning house (including the board itself) – and right the ship of the Coatesville Area School District.
If they fail to do so, the district leadership need not fear us in the media or even an angry public. They need to fear the Pennsylvania Department of Education finally saying “enough is enough” and taking over the district.
If that happens, as we’re seeing all too clearly in Philadelphia this week, everyone loses.