Few jobs on the planet are as thankless as serving on a school board, a duty that routinely subjects members to all manner of vitriol. In fact, when school district operations go smoothly, those folks rarely hear a peep from constituents; so even the good times go unrewarded.
Of course, mourning the lack of gratitude for boom times is not an issue for board members in the Coatesville Area School District: There haven’t been many. History shows one problematic administration after another, going back decades. And it seems that somewhere in that toxic mix, school board members lost sight of their accountability to citizens.
Numerous board decisions in recent weeks have flouted taxpayers’ input – from failing to fire former Superintendent Richard W. Como and former Athletic Director James Donato for a series of racially-charged text messages to purchasing a $2.8 million administration building intended to double as a health-care center. That’s not to say that the board should rubber-stamp public opinion, but it shouldn’t flagrantly ignore it, either.
When hundreds of taxpayers make the same passionate appeal, the board owes them an explanation for disregarding the prevailing sentiment. Not in Coatesville. For the past couple of months, most of the board members have been totally unresponsive – remaining mute at meetings and leaving phone and email messages unanswered.
And the few times when board members have responded, the result has left frustrated taxpayers shaking their heads in disbelief. One such example occurred Tuesday night when a citizen’s remark unhinged outgoing Board Member Joe Dunn.
To be fair, Dunn may have been justified in his anger over an insinuation that he had something to gain by approving the purchase of the Citadel building – even though the board has invited such suspicions by overseeing a regime shrouded in favoritism and secrecy. Still, screaming that the citizen was a coward and a punk for not backing up the accusation when confronted represented a new low in meeting decorum, even for Coatesville.
Outbursts do sometimes occur at public meetings everywhere, but such behavior is generally halted by someone – if not the person running the meeting, then someone near the podium. If the person who blew up doesn’t see fit to apologize, colleagues often do. Not in Coatesville. Instead, exasperated taxpayers were left wondering whether other board members viewed this as acceptable behavior.