CASD completes plans laid out by PHRC, NAACP

Rights organizations call school board’s actions ‘earnest and true’

By Kyle CarrozzaStaff Writer, The Times


SPIRIT Program members talk about the impact students can have on the community’s culture.

CALN – Commemorating the school district’s progress in healing community and district relations, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, Pennsylvania NAACP chapter, and Center for Safe Schools/Mid-Atlantic Equity Center ratified the execution of the Plan of Action presented in March, 2014.

Signed by board members and Coatesville Area School District Superintendent Dr. Cathy Taschner at a special board meeting on Tuesday, the document acknowledged that the District has taken the proper steps in recovering from the Como-Donato scandal. Goals for CASD included training staff in cultural competency, increasing transparency, and examining District practices.

“District leadership has cooperated to repair damage by taking tangible steps,” said JoAnn Edwards, Executive Director of the PHRC.

PA NAACP Education Chair Joan Duvall-Flynn agreed, calling the school board “earnest and true.”

School Board President Dean Snyder read a statement outlining actions that the District has taken to move forward, including reviewing bills, verifying criminal records for district employees, and following the recommendations of the District Attorney’s report.

“We will not forget the past. We will continue to take necessary steps to right past wrongs while focusing more of our efforts on moving forward,” he said.

Students also showed their commitment to helping the District improve. Members of the SPIRIT Program

“We greatly appreciate what you guys were able to do here,” one student told the school board. “It’s a good thing to know that the students are going to have a greater voice, a greater say, and we’ll be able to do much more within the community to help others.”

In order to further deal with the fallout from the scandal, the Board also approved an amendment to take legal action against former Board Solicitor James Ellison as well as his former law firm, Rhoads and Sinon, and current firm, the Susquehanna Legal Group.

The board cited “annual bill amounts that were greatly in excess of what other school districts pay,” insufficient billing practices, and phone charges paid by the District as reason to pursue action. The resolution reserved the right to recover expenditures resulting from these billing practices and investigate potential malpractice. The District plans on working with the DA throughout this process.

The board also approved pursuing legal action against District Communications Technician Mario Priori, seeking a payment of $5,702.50 for damaging a district van while driving in a negligent manner.

In other district news, the board voted for the advertisement of a preliminary budget for 2015-16. Based on a maximum tax increase of 2.4%, the District stands at a $2.185 million deficit, though District Business Manager Ron Kabonick emphasized that the budget is still in its early stages and does not yet know important factors such as the amount state funding to be received. Still, he said that significant budget cuts will need to be made.

“Our choices are limited; our needs are great,” he said.

Board member Deborah Thompson said that the District should avoid cuts that will affect students directly while also acknowledging the negative impact that a tax increase could have on the community.

“There are some persons in the city that just cannot absorb another impact,” she said. “The majority of the heart of what makes Coatesville have been lifelong residents.”

Dean Snyder signs the ratification acknowledging district progress in following the plans laid out by a host of human rights organizations.

Dean Snyder signs the ratification acknowledging district progress in following the plans laid out by a host of human rights organizations.

Taschner agreed, expressing her desire to avoid cuts that affect students. She said that the situation is difficult as the majority of the budget is comprised of salaries.

A vote to adopt the preliminary budget will take place next month, and the final budget must be adopted in June.

During the special meeting, the Board voted to rescind agreements with the Coatesville Solar Initiative. In August, the Board approved agreements with CSI to allow access to school property and receive solar services. The 25-year solar service agreement would have provided the District with electrical power.

However, Tuesday night’s resolution stated that the agreements may not have been lawful, and Ellison, who was solicitor at the time, did not perform due diligence. Thompson pointed out that CSI still has not broken ground on the project, and a clause in the agreements allowed either party to pull out if it felt progress was not being made.

Board members indicated that the District is still interested in the project and will continue to investigate viability.

The CASB committees met after Tuesday’s special board meeting.

During the policy committee meeting, members approved the revisions of nondiscrimination hiring and unlawful harassment policies. While discussing these items with the full board, Laurie Knecht pointed out that one policy regarding equal employment opportunity did not include sexual orientation as a protected class while the other policies did. She suggested the removal of sexual orientation from all of the policies as a protected class as state law does not require that classification.

“Race, sex, religion are just things that happen. Sexual preference is a behavior,” said Knecht. “I think there’s a lot of pressure to be politically correct.”

The committee approved the passing of the policies including sexual orientation to the full board and tabled the policy in question so that members could discuss adding sexual orientation as a protected class.

During the operations committee meeting, the Chester County Intermediate Unit presented its findings from the technology audit it performed on the District. Included in its findings, the CCIU said that the District’s current technology inventory program is insufficient, the majority of district computers are “beyond their useful life and need to be replaced,” and the District is in “critical need” of professional development in technology for all staff.

Taschner said that she has been discussing these issues and wants to come up with a plan to fix them.

“This is not easy to stomach, we all know that, but I will say what I’ve been saying all along: ‘We will fix this,’” she said.

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