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Coatesville district to sue ex-chief, athletic director

The Coatesville Area School District's board voted unanimously Thursday night to sue its former superintendent and former high school athletic director to recover any money the district may have lost due to the men's alleged misconduct.

The Coatesville Area School District's board voted unanimously Thursday night to sue its former superintendent and former high school athletic director to recover any money the district may have lost due to the men's alleged misconduct.

The district is acting before the statute of limitations can expire on some of the claims against former Superintendent Richard Como and former athletic director James Donato. The administrators resigned last year after school officials found the racist and sexist text messages about students and staff they exchanged on district-issued cellphones.

The school board passed the resolution to sue, 8-0, at a special meeting Thursday. Mike Levin, who replaced the district's former solicitor about a month ago, said he planned to file suit Friday in Chester County Court.

"This past week it became clear to me that the school district was injured in a legal sense by the actions, in my opinion, of Mr. Como and Mr. Donato," said Levin, who reviewed an internal report commissioned by the district.

The resolution passed Thursday referred to "egregious misconduct" by Como and Donato without giving specifics, and called for recovery of funds and punitive damages.

Como's lawyer, Paul J. Rubino, of Paoli, said he had no comment.

Donato's lawyer, Daniel Bush of West Chester, said Thursday that he and his client had not been told about a lawsuit, and thus he could not comment on it.

"Our hope has been for quite some time that the City of Coatesville and the people who make it great have started the healing process," Bush said in a statement before the meeting. "Hopefully, any action at tonight's meeting doesn't reopen old wounds."

For more than a year, the Chester County District Attorney's Office has been investigating district finances, including potential kickbacks involving high school football camps that were mentioned in some of the former administrators' text messages.

The District Attorney's Office also is investigating the school district's former solicitor for potential overbilling.

The office expects to release a report on its findings soon.

Although school district officials on Thursday did not mention specific actions taken by Como and Donato, there are questions about whether Como hired employees and gave raises without board approval.

"The district will be investigating further to determine which losses were actually incurred and what they can reasonably ask for in terms of damages from Como and Donato," said Beth Trapani, the district's spokeswoman.

Board member Stu Deets said the district needs to do what it can to move on while prosecutors' efforts continue.

"A lot of money has been spent by the school district because of what those two did," Deets said. "I don't see why the taxpayers of the school district should be footing the bill. It was their conduct. They should pay."

The Coatesville district is in an "unstable financial position," according to a multiyear audit report by the Pennsylvania Department of the Auditor General released in March.

In a letter sent to parents Wednesday night, Superintendent Cathy Taschner said district officials are committed to reducing the district's legal fees, but also recognize the importance of trying to recoup money owed to the district.

Taschner also revealed on Thursday that the Chester County Intermediate Unit is currently doing a spot check of the district-issued cellphones of district employees in search of any inappropriate text messages. These random checks, she said, will occur periodically.

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