School board: D.A.’s probe precludes comments

Parents, taxpayers air grievances as CASD remains silent on personnel matters

By Kyle Carrozza, Staff Writer, The Times

Liz Muirhead tells the board that administrators must be held responsible for their actions. "We've made the mistake in the past, allowing administrators to depart with their reputations intact when they should have been held accountable," she said.

Liz Muirhead tells the board that administrators must be held responsible for their actions. “We’ve made the mistake in the past, allowing administrators to depart with their reputations intact when they should have been held accountable,” she said.

CALN – In an official statement read by School Board President J. Neil Campbell, the Coatesville Area School Board said that an ongoing DA investigation prevents them from commenting on the circumstances regarding the resignations of former Superintendent Richard Como and former Athletic Director James Donato.

Campbell read the announcement at Tuesday night’s committee meeting.

“COATESVILLE (SEPTEMBER 10, 2013) – The Coatesville Area School District (CASD) School Board hereby confirms that former Superintendent Richard Como and former Athletic Director James Donato have submitted letters of resignation which will be voted upon by the Board at its September 24, 2013 legislative meeting,” the statement said.

“The Board is unable to substantively comment on this matter because it is the subject of an on-going investigation by the Chester County District Attorney, to whom CASD is providing its full support and cooperation, as well as all relevant and pertinent information. Additionally, by directive of the Board, CASD is conducting an internal non-criminal investigation.

“The Board is also unable to substantively comment on this matter because it involves personnel issues, and by practice, policy and custom, neither CASD nor the Board publicly comments on matters involving personnel.”

The announcement of the ongoing investigations was met with applause from the large audience that attended the meeting in the 9/10 Center. However, many in attendance, including parents and teachers, were not satisfied with the district’s refusal to comment.

“We’re asking you to open lines of communication with teachers, the community, and students,” said Audra Ritter, president of the Coatesville Area Teachers Association.

Parent Liz Muirhead agreed, saying that the rumor mill reached parents before any communication from the district.

She also said that while she understands that the ongoing investigation prevents the district from divulging certain information, they should still share the information that they can, suggesting that the board designates an emergency PR person for similar situations.

“A solicitor cannot serve as a PR person,” said Muirhead.

West Brandywine resident and Coatesville alumna Beth Brady said that because the district lacks a PR person, residents are forced to shoulder the burden of district publicity, a job made more difficult with rumors circulating.

“The community has been very disheartened by the lack of answers,” she said. “We are the ones who defend the Coatesville schools to our neighbors. Please help us out with open communication.”

Student School Board Representative Paul Draper, Jr. said that students, too, have been frustrated with the confusion. He said that many want to defend their school district but cannot.

Campbell said that board policy prevented the district from notifying residents sooner.

“I understand the transparency comments, but again, at this time, it is a personnel matter,” he said. “We never deal with personnel matters in public as respect to the employee, and we are not going to begin to start a different practice.”

Campbell said that for the same reasons, he could not comment as to whether the district’s internal non-criminal investigation would be conducted by someone associated with the district or an outside party.

Attendees not only expressed anger toward the lack of answers, but many said that they feel that athletics are taking priority over education in the district.

“I want to know when the focus went from academics to athletics,” said West Caln resident Theresa Thomas.

Another resident pointed to the $12,000 purchase of practice pants for the football team, saying that such a purchase is unacceptable when textbooks are being duct-taped together.

Programs such as the ROTC, English as a Second Language, and gifted education have been cut in recent years to the chagrin of many students and parents.

Tom Audette, a Friends of PA-771 member, said that would-be ROTC students will participate in a Joint Military Service Club in response to the program’s cancellation. The program will rely on independent fundraising.

“The school district has not provided one penny for these kids, which I find sad,” said Audette.

Some comments expressed frustration not just at the most recent situation but at the fact that the district has been in similar situations before.

“I’m not only shocked by what happened but shocked that it happened again,” said Theresa Thomas.

Many residents called for action, saying that certain school board members should resign or that Solicitor James Ellison should be replaced. Stuart Deets, reading from a copy of Como’s contract, said that Como should have notified the school board 60 days before resigning. He called for a suspension without pay due to Como’s lack of notification.

First Assistant District Attorney Michael G. Noone said Tuesday night that his office could  “neither confirm nor deny an investigation.”

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  1. abouttime says:

    Let me clear up any suspicion, Audra Ritter is not related in anyway to Rick Ritter on the board. Mamabear I can assure you that CATA is involved, Audra spoke on Tuesday night asking the board to open up the search for a new superintendent to go outside of the district.

  2. Whistle Blower says:

    MamaBear and others, No offense, but you just don’t get it. If Como gives Board members relatives jobs, then the Board gives his family and friends jobs. Take a look at the information every meeting for who gets hired. Connect the last names. Connect the relationships. They are scratching each other’s back and Como’s hacks are still there and so are the Board’s relatives. Do you REALLY think they will do an investigation??

  3. MamaBear says:

    I agree with your comments TownWatch7. CURABLE needs to be revived. It is very important to attend the board meetings and QUESTION, QUESTION, QUESTION! I have been wondering where CATA has been. Como should NEVER have been appointed supt.! This wouldn’t have happened in my day. After four regimes of crooked, immoral, & unqualified people, the board hasn’t learned. Be sure an outside party investigates and everything is brought out in the open. It was hidden in the past. I speak from experience and knowledge. Parents & students shouldn’t have to defend the CASD or the board. The board can be replaced. I know because we did it twice by electing 5 new members! Wake up taxpayers of CATA of CASD!

  4. TownWatch7 says:

    “Practice, policy, and custom” is what needs to be changed at the CASD!! That’s what all of us as parents, taxpayers, students and teachers were looking for last night and are looking for in the future from the District. Also it was interesting that when the solicitor James Ellison, and the board were asked last night directly,”will the internal noncriminal investigation that the school district will be conducting be run by someone inside the district or an outside independent authority?” That question was met by a stoney silence from the board and everyone of the people on the stage looked down and avoided the eye contact with the crowd. It is time for change at all levels of the administration and the school board of this morally bankrupt situation. No longer will we as taxpayers, parents, students, and teachers just except “business as usual” from the CASD. It is time to take back the district and focus on it’s main purpose of providing our students with a quality education. The sports teams should be relegated to being what they are intended to be, an “extracurricular activity” Not the most important thing to the administration and board! Kudos to everyone who attended the meeting last night and especially to those who got up to speak regarding this deplorable situation. Everyone should come to as many board meeting as possible, and be sure the district hears your voice at these meeting and in the election for school board members coming up in November. I hope everyone is now seeing how important these positions are!

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