COATESVILLE The Coatesville Area school board has decided to keep its solicitor, although the Chester County District Attorney's Office is investigating him and he will be leaving his law firm Tuesday.

At a meeting Thursday, the board voted, 7-1, for the "provisional appointment" of Harrisburg lawyer James Ellison to continue as district solicitor after he breaks with Rhoads & Sinon. The firm's legal services contract with the district ends Tuesday, the board said. Board President Neil Campbell did not say how long the appointment would last.

"There may be a time when we put out requests for proposals" from other firms, he said.

Campbell said the district needs to keep Ellison while it still has open legal proceedings, since Ellison would be the most knowledgeable person about those cases. Campbell said Rhoads & Sinon decided not to continue to represent the district and Ellison, who has served as solicitor since 2002, wanted to stay on.

Newly elected board member Deborah Thompson, the only member to vote against Ellison's continued services, said, "I absolutely believe we have to search and fact-find for a proper attorney that is not going to price-gouge this district in the manner we have today."

Several residents questioned the decision to keep Ellison without a law firm behind him.

The District Attorney's Office is investigating Ellison in connection with possible overbilling and defrauding taxpayers. In October, District Attorney Thomas Hogan also accused Ellison and board members of trying to hinder his investigation into the district's finances.

"It seems to be a step backward, both for our investigation and the students and taxpayers of the school district, to leave in place the solicitor, who has been right in the middle of so many of the legal problems for the district," Hogan said Thursday night.

The financial investigation began after the discovery of racist and sexist text messages exchanged between two district administrators that also mentioned kickbacks. Superintendent Richard Como and athletic director Jim Donato resigned early in the school year.

The board also approved giving Como about $102,000 in a pretax severance package that includes payment for unused vacation, sick, and personal days that the district owes him.

mbond@philly.com 610-313-8105 @MichaelleBond