The incompetence of the Coatesville school board rivaled that of those it empowered to run Chester County's poorest school district.
A grand jury report suggests that the board allowed former Superintendent Richard Como to run the district as a petty dictatorship, bullying employees who would dare question him as he allegedly stole public funds and hired unqualified relatives, friends, and felons to work with children. Several of Como's hires had a record of drug, weapons, assault, and child endangerment offenses.
Chester County District Attorney Thomas Hogan last week also announced numerous counts of theft and other offenses against Como's familiar, former Athletic Director Jim Donato, who is accused of using district cash to buy himself a Range Rover and cover his gambling debts. Como, meanwhile, allegedly submitted fake expense reports, created a slush fund, and squandered sparse district funds on football rings and iPads.
The grand jury report is a must-read for anyone wondering how not to run a public entity. But instead of questioning Como's management as he ran up staggering debt, increased class sizes, cut course offerings, and fired and furloughed staff, the board rewarded him. Over the seven years he was running the district into the ground, the board raised his annual salary from $155,000 to $247,000.
Racist, sexist text messages linked to Como and Donato - using racial epithets for students and describing women as "pieces," among other slurs - made headlines last year, but the board tried to cover up the scandal. It allowed whistle-blowers to be harassed and, once the public outrage became impossible to ignore, let Como and Donato control their exits by resigning rather than being fired.
Even after the duo left, the board's cover-up continued. It withheld documents from the District Attorney's Office and effectively thwarted its investigation of former schools solicitor James Ellison. Hogan and his staff are to be commended for their persistence in pursuing the sort of complex case that is too often ignored by local prosecutors.
New members of the school board have promised transparency and sued Como and Donato in an effort to recover the money they allegedly stole. But no lawsuit or prosecution can recover everything the district's 7,000 children have lost to bigotry and mismanagement.