A new interim head of school takes over in Coatesville, Pa.
In the midst of the ongoing racist text scandal, the Coatesville School District announced there will be a new interim superintendent.
Leonard Fitts, 73, will replace Angelo Romaniello as the interim superintendent of the district on Wednesday. Romaniello will return to his role as assistant superintendent.
Fitts previously served as interim superintendent for the Berlin Township school district, Willingboro, Glassboro, Camden and was a county superintendent in Union County.
The Philly Inquirer reports Fitts, who has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Tuskegee Institute, a master of business administration from Drexel University, and a doctorate in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, was one of five people considered for the interim position.
While Fitts won’t pursue the superintendent position, he told the Philly Inquirer he wants to improve communication between the school district and residents, a relationship that has undergone turmoil in the midst of the scandal.
Last September, the Coatesville school board accepted the resignations of Coatesville Area School District Superintendent Richard Como and Director of Athletics and Activities Jim Donato. Como and Donato resigned from their posts after an IT staffer who was fixing Donato’s phone discovered text messages containing the N-word.
The messages, first reported by The Daily Local of West Chester and later obtained by NBC10 Philadelphia, were uncovered by the district IT employee before the start of the school year, according to officials. That employee brought it to the attention of the school board on Aug. 18, prompting Como and Donato to later resign. Chester County prosecutors eventually launched a criminal investigation and asked that more than 100 pages of transcripts be turned over to detectives.
"All should just have whatever first names they want...then last name is N-----! Leroy N-----, Preacher N-----, Night train n-----, Clarence n-----, Latoya n-----, Thelma n----- and so on," read one message sent from Donato’s phone on the night of June 4.
"Great idea! Joe n----- bill n----- snake n----- got a nice ring to it," Como replied.
“hahahahahahahahahahahaha could have whole homerooms of N-----,” came another message from Como’s phone.
“hahahahahahahahaha! Will N----- report to office, pardon the interruption but will N----- report to nurses office. N----- to lunch now!” Donato said.
Amid the racist messages were also conversations about district money.
"Gonna give them til Aug 1st to raise coin still want district to give at least 40k on top," wrote Donato in one of the texts.
Acting Assistant Superintendent Dr. Teresa Powell, one of two employees who discovered the text messages, publicly stated during a meeting on October 8 that she was offered a promotion if she would remain quiet about the texts. Powell also claimed that then acting superintendent, Angelo Romaniello, whom Fitts replaced, was the mystery “third texter” who took part in inappropriate exchanges with Como and Donato. Finally, Powell claimed tens of thousands of dollars was missing, related to football team rings.
Romaniello denied the allegations against him.
Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan told NBC10 Philadelphia that prosecutors have spent several months looking at whether Como and Donato were skimming district cash.
Sources say concerned parents went to prosecutors four months ago asking officials to look into potential financial wrongdoing in the district. The discovery of the text messages came months later.
"There are references in these texts about financial improprieties of missing money," Hogan said.
Hogan also said an electronic forensics team was deployed to look for additional evidence, but would not elaborate further citing the on-going investigation.
On October 21, Hogan announced that the Coatesville Area School District had not cooperated with their investigation. Hogan accused the school board as well as its solicitor, James Ellison, of trying to “obstruct, evade, and delay” the criminal investigation.
“They have delayed or refused to produce basic documents,” Hogan said. “They have attempted to block CASD employees and representatives from providing information to the Commonwealth.They have taken steps to harass, intimidate and bully the whistleblowers who initially reported wrongdoing. None of this conduct will derail this investigation but it gives the appearance to all involved that CASD and its Solicitor have no interest in allowing the truth to be uncovered.”
Hogan also announced that Ellison as well as his law firm are now being investigated for potential criminal conduct. Questions surround whether Ellison overbilled or illegally billed the district for services going back to 2010, during which his law firm collected $4 million in legal fees.
“This investigation includes the issues of obstruction of justice and whether CASD and Coatesville taxpayers were defrauded through the payment of improper legal fees and expenses," Hogan said.
"The Solicitor and his law firm have billed CASD for millions of dollars of legal fees over the past few years.”
Hogan says the commonwealth will ask for the school board to produce all of the documents regarding legal bills and expenses paid to Ellison and his firm. He also stated that while the investigation is taking place, Ellison’s firm will not be allowed to represent the school district due to a conflict of interest.
“CASD must appoint independent counsel who can assist CASD and Coatesville taxpayers in uncovering any unlawful conduct that took place in the School District,” Hogan said.
Ellison denied allegations of employee intimidation and possible tampering last month while speaking to the Delaware County Times. Ellison attended Tuesday's public meeting and faced angry residents who called for his resignation.
"Mr. Ellison should be relieved of duty immediately," said one attendee.
Ellison refused to comment on the allegations against him when confronted by NBC10.
Neil Campbell, the Coatesville School Board President, also responded to Hogan's allegations.
"We did not realize the District Attorney felt that information wasn't turned over fast enough," Campbell said. "We turned over the cell phone records and paperwork that he requested. We look forward to providing whatever else he requires and look forward to getting this behind us and moving forward for the students."