Coatesville shakes up school district staff after scandal

Ron Suber protesting then-superintendent Richard Como and former director of athletics Jim Donato at Coatesville Senior High School back in 2013. Both were arrested for theft and state ethics violations.

The Coatesville Area School District has reassigned staff members, eliminated some jobs, and suspended staff members with the intent to dismiss as a result of its internal investigation into district management.

These and other details have emerged about the extent of mismanagement in the Chester County school district, whose former superintendent and former athletic director were arrested last year on theft and state ethics violations.

The arrests were the result of an investigation by the county's District Attorney's Office.

The conclusions of the school district's investigation, released Monday, revealed that the former superintendent, Richard Como, hired not only his own family members but the family and friends of school board members, former school board members, former athletes, and former students, many of whom were unqualified or underqualified.

Como also protected and defended employees who were in his "inner circle," including ignoring evidence of the alleged theft of gas from the district, the report said.

According to witnesses, Como allowed the employee who allegedly stole the gas to remain employed because he had information that could harm Como.

The employee had filed a complaint against the former superintendent with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in December 2012, the internal report said. According to the complaint, "Como regularly made racist and sexist comments at work about employees and students to staff members who found it offensive but were powerless to speak out."

This complaint was filed nearly nine months before Como's racist and sexist text message exchanges with former athletic director Jim Donato about students and staff were made public.

After the community found out about the text messages, the school district hired the Philadelphia law firm Conrad O'Brien in 2013 to look into district finances and the conduct of administrators and school board members.

"The report paints a picture of a school district that for years existed in a culture of corruption, deception, and mismanagement," Superintendent Cathy Taschner wrote in a letter to parents Sunday. "But it also includes a very important piece of information: that we have made dramatic strides over the last six months."

Beth Trapani, the district's spokeswoman, said most of the personnel changes so far have been at the administrative level. She declined to say who and how many people have been affected and noted that the district does not comment on specific personnel issues.

The school board voted in December to publicly release the taxpayer-funded report, which Conrad O'Brien finished in April and added to in July. School officials said that lawyers had taken several weeks to remove some names for legal purposes and that some new school board members had read the report for the first time.

The report also said the school district gave "unlimited months of medical leave" to an employee who allegedly falsified injuries he said he sustained working on and falling through the roof of Como's house during work hours. The internal report also found that a teacher with multiple arrests for driving under the influence was not fired because of his friendship with Como.

The district turned its investigative report over to the Chester County District Attorney's Office last summer in response to a subpoena. Thomas P. Hogan, the district attorney, had said the report would aid his office in its own investigation into district administrators.

Como and Donato were arrested on dozens of charges of theft and state ethics violations as a result of the District Attorney's Office investigation.

Matthew Haverstick, a lawyer at Conrad O'Brien, wrote the report and has praised Coatesville's efforts to change. In a letter to the community Monday, he thanked the district's new leadership "for their unwavering commitment to correcting past digressions and moving the school district forward from the indiscretions and abject failures of prior leadership."

610-313-8207 @MichaelleBond