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The Philadelphia Inquirer
September 15, 2013 Sunday
PHILADELPHIA; P-com News Local; Pg. B02
|Officials' sudden exit rankles Coatesville parents
By Aubrey Whelan; Inquirer Staff Writer
COATESVILLE Parents say that they are puzzled and angry about the sudden resignations of two top administrators and that so far Coatesville Area School District officials have done little to alleviate their concerns.
In a terse post on the district website Aug. 29, Superintendent Richard Como, who worked for the district for more than 20 years, announced his retirement.
"I said to my husband this is all too sudden," said Tricia Daller, of Sadsbury, who has two children in district schools.
Then another shoe dropped.
The district confirmed that Jim Donato, the senior high school's director of athletics and activities, had resigned.
Rumors swirled for two weeks as the district remained mum, and then when scores of parents showed up at a board committee meeting Tuesday to demand an explanation, they received yet another surprise.
In a prepared statement, the district told attendees that Como and Donato had indeed resigned - and that the entire matter was the subject of an investigation by the Chester County District Attorney's Office and the district itself.
When the board members present said they could not comment further, that did not appease several of the parents.
"We are the ones who defend you," one parent said to the board, "and with no information we are reduced to repeating rumors."
After the meeting, district officials remained steadfast in their refusals to comment on the investigations and did not return phone calls and e-mails requesting comment.
District Attorney Tom Hogan said through a representative that he could not confirm or deny the existence of any investigation.
Como did not return a call for comment.
Meanwhile, the rumor mill has remained active.
District parents have flooded Facebook with comments and begun plans to pack the Sept. 24 meeting, where the board will vote whether to accept Como's and Donato's resignation letters.
"I understand the fact they can't say much - there's a criminal investigation underway," said Anne Weurtz, a parent who created a Facebook group for other parents.
"But they should have said that two weeks ago. They were saying nothing."
Weurtz said many parents believe that if an investigation revealed evidence of wrongdoing, the board should not accept the letters of resignation - and fire both men outright.
This isn't the first time a Coatesville superintendent has left under questionable circumstances.
In 2000, the school board bought out the contract of Louis Laurento for more than $250,000 amid allegations of mismanagement. In 2005, his successor, James Scarnati, resigned after months of conflict with the school board.
In the latest instance, as angry as some parents were, others said they were grateful to have received any explanation for the departures of Como and Donato.
"People are glad that something was said - even if it was as little as that," said Liz Muirhead, who has two children in the district and spoke several times at Tuesday's meeting.
"At least I can understand why they've decided to be silent. It's different than the wall of silence."
Contact Aubrey Whelan at 610-313-8112, at [email protected], or on Twitter at @aubreyjwhelan.
September 15, 2013