CASD board, administration thumb noses at community

When answers are needed, stonewalling and hostile behavior hurts everyone

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
UTMikeColLogo-250x300Ultimately, it comes down to respect.

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.

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Tags: CASD, Chester County District Attorney’s Office, Coatesville Area High School Athletic Director Jim Donato, Coatesville Area School District Board of Education, Pennsylvania Department of Education, Right To-Know, Superintendent of Schools Richard Como
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13 Responses

  1. Agree with all. Right to Know is being abused. Anyone notice none of our Legislatures are here to help? That is what they are there for.
    The best thing is the School Board is elected, just remember next election just vote for anyone not in there now………it’s that easy. I think the DA Office should have made a statement by now.
    On another note if you look at the past administrators seems they have all left under similiar circumstances, except this time maybe charges will be pressed. I think with the next administrator they should be hired with the fact that at the end of the week an outside firm (or two) will be reviewing everything they did that week…

  2. Here is a link to the 2011 contract for Como. Way off the one you posted.

    http://php.app.com/PAteachers11/results.php?county=Chester&LEAname=Coatesville+Area+SD&school=%25&lname=como&fname=&assignment=%25&Submit=Search

    In 2011 he was making $208,329/yr this does not include the expense package, cell phone package, performance bonuses and the tax sheltered annuity the board pays for him. If we assume a 6% annual raise for the last two years he is around a base of 233K. I have heard that the total package is closer to $250K. You got duped by the James Ellison and the right to know officer in the building. They are not giving you the correct info.

    • No offense, but one would hope that you are incorrect. Knowingly providing incorrect information for a Right To Know request is a fairly serious matter with legal consequences, which, should it be true, we would pursue to the extent of the law.

      If, as you suggest, the board solicitor — who ultimately approved the release of the contract after legal review — knowingly provided us with an inaccurate document, we would seek sanctions against him from the State Bar.

      Everyone involved at the school district would have to know this and it seems unlikely to us that they would knowingly provide us with false information.

      Additionally, as the Web link you provided doesn’t seem to provide any information — it may be a time or cookie limited search — at this point we have no evidence that the contract provided is not legitimate.

      We, of course, would be happy to evaluate any hard evidence to the contrary.

    • Thanks for the correct link. It’s absurd he was making that much money!

  3. “Did you ever think maybe they were forced to resign because of the allegations the DLN published.” This is a quote from your second to last comment,and what I was referring to about people (i.e. the newspapers and everyone else) saying bad thing about them. You are the ONLY ONE making comments that are defending these people and I hope that when the overwhelming evidence of wrong doing is brought out you will be the first one to comment that you were wrong to defend such amoral individuals and tell us all what your true relationship to them is. The only one profiting from this whole mess is James Ellison and his law firm who are billing the school district for untold hours to address a situation that NEVER SHOULD HAVE HAPPENED. Also his position as solicitor for the school district means he should have been working for us, the taxpayers who pay his bills to prevent this sort of thing rather than being rapped up in it himself. We can only hope that any investigation and penalties address this “double dipping” and that he and his firm are not only fined significantly but are also dismissed as solicitor for our school district.

  4. THE LAST COMMENT WAS ORIGINALLY DIRECTED AT A COMMENT BY db1976. SORRY ABOUT ANY CONFUSION TO WHO I WAS REFERRING TO!!

  5. love the jump to a conclusion lets see what happens. Speculations only hurt inocent parties the DA will let us know when they can

  6. Ellison was fined for ethics violations in May 2012, so do you really think he cares if he gives you inaccurate information now? It is what he has been paid to do all along. And for the record, Athletic Director Donato was out before school even started but Como & Company was trying to keep it quiet. Others will follow, all in due time. Happy days are here again!

  7. Mike,
    I clicked the link posted by benner insider and I could see the info.

    • It must have gorfed for me, because now I can see the data as well.

      Thanks for the heads up. There are three possibilities for the difference between the contract figures and the numbers and I’ll list them in what I think is the likely order of their being correct: 1. The number reflects the entire compensation number for Como, including PSERS pension match and benefits (which would be pretty close to the number listed there, if you look at the contract. 2. Como held more than one position. This is one of the many reasons we have asked for under Right To Know for a complete listing of employees, titles and salaries (and yes, as they are taxpayer funded, you have a right to know this information). 3. The district knowingly supplied incorrect information for a Right To Know request.

      While we’ve now seen enough information, sadly, not to be able to totally discount any of the above, just from my experience in looking over school budgets, my guess is the first option. Keep in mind that base salary as specified in the contract is not total compensation as I think that site lists. The district’s PSERS (pension) contribution would have been about $5,500 additional on a base salary of $185,000, if you add FICA, health benefits, and perks (we know he had a district cell phone at minimum), it’s not hard for those numbers to add up to $18,000.

      I think it is important to understand the difference in terms of salary and total compensation — whether for someone like Como or a first-year math teacher.

  8. A response to a comment left on the Daily Local News today!

    Hey clambroth, Have you ever personally known anyone who has quit a $200,000 plus powerful job because people were saying bad and mean things about them? Also do you really believe that the Chester County DA would be investigating Como quiting because he was sensitive to what people said about him? Anyone (MYSELF INCLUDED) who has ever had any substantive interaction with him knows that he is one of the most arrogant and least caring of what people think of him persons you could ever meet. You state that the CASD is a “flipping MAD HOUSE and a Hell hole” How and who do you blame for making it that way? Certainly it can’t be the students who are only trying to get a decent education. Or the teachers who have to struggle daily with over populated classes, and dwindling resources that have been misplaced and misused by the Administrators and the School Board. While reading an article in the DLN today about another Chester County school district proudly opening a STEM School (Avon Grove) I wondered what it would be like if Coatesville was able to do the same? Until Coatesville gets it’s priorities right and starts concentrating it’s resources on improving and educating students brains instead of wasting valuable resources on activities like Football that has been scientifically proven (probably by a STEM school graduate) without a doubt to damage and hurt the brains and future’s of participants, our district will always be in the bottom percentage of academic performance scores in the state of Pa. We can only hope and work toward having the new Superintendent and new school board members work together to concentrate on the majority of students in the district who will then be going on to college on academic scholarships. Not the small number that go on to college from our district on sports scholarships. Who knows maybe when that happens we can actually spend money on rings to a large number of deserving students who came in first place in academics, rather than wasting money on rings for a small number that came in second place on the Football team! The priorities of the Administration and School Board of CASD have been wrong and allowed to be hijacked for too long. Taxpayers, parents, teachers, and students deserve better!!

  9. Rumor has it that the Board just privately OKed a $60,000 raise for Dr. Romanello. Will the raise appear on the agenda for a vote Tuesday? Inquiring minds want to know and will be there to find out. Keep in mind that just because the raise doesn’t appear on the Board handouts, doesn’t mean they haven’t given him the raise. This Board has approved raises before without the public’s knowledge. Anyway, if the rumor is true, then it’s the same old shell game for the CASD. Let’s keep in mind that he is the “acting” Superintendent. We have a DA, and I thought the Board, investigating the district and until it’s clear who did what, we should put things like promotions, raises, and perhaps even non-essential hirings on hold. That is unless the Board plans to take months or a year doing their internal investigation and finding a new Superintendent. Besides, in the short time he has been in the new position, Dr. Romanello has not done anything to warrent such a raise and $60,000 would buy much needed books or even an aide or two. Education, not Administration should be our motto. Well it is a learning experience, at least for the public.

  10. Great comments Abe! While It seems that Romanello should get some sort of bump in pay, considering the circumstances of this promotion along with the current climate (who knows who and where this all will lead to) It would be better for him to take a nominal increase rather than grab everything while he can. He is just fine as an interim Superintendent and if we have learned anything at all in the last 2 decades it is that we should be more than careful who we pick to run this district. And besides its Football season. I’m sure the football team needs something, and we could always use a few more gym coaches. NO DECISION SHOULD BE PUT INTO MOTION IN ANY WAY PICKING THE PERSON WHO WE NEXT INTRUST OUR KIDS AND $ TO UNTILL WE HAVE A THROUGH UNDERSTAND OF WHAT HAS GONE ON IN THE LAST ADMINISTRATION AND WHO WAS INVOLVED PERSONALLY, OR EVEN JUST KEPT QUIET AND LOOKED THE OTHER WAY! AND CERTAINLY NOT UNTILL AFTER THE SCHOOL BOARD ELECTION IN NOVEMBER AND WHEN THEY TAKE THEIR SEATS IN JANUARY! DONT FORGET TO VOTE FOR ANYBODY BUT THE CURRENT MEMBERS, OR THINGS WILL NEVER CHANGE! Sorry I shouted…

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