Pension for former Coatesville superintendent seems wrong

The news that former Coatesville Area School District Superintendent Richard Como had applied to the state’s Public School Employee’s Retirement System to begin collecting his retirement pension does not come to us as a complete surprise. Still, it leaves us with a feeling as though we had been kicked in the stomach – a little sick, and a little angry.

According to retirement system representatives, Como filed for his pension on Oct. 30, but his application has yet to be completed. Como left his decades-long employment in the public school system in August under the blackest of clouds, accused of exchanging racially and sexually offensive text messages with another Coatesville administrator, Athletic Director James Donato, on their school owned cell phones. Members of the Coatesville Area School Board, acting with what we consider ill-considered advice of its legal counsel, decided to allow Como to voluntarily retire from his office rather than be removed through termination proceedings.

That set the course for Como eventually to make his way to the pension system to claim the money that had been set aside for him through the years he spent as an educator.

Rules regarding whether a public pension such as the one that Como earned can be withheld for misconduct are clear. Under the Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act, any individual who has a right to receive retirement is subjected to a pension forfeiture if that employee is “convicted of, pleads guilty or no defense to any of the crimes listed under the Pension Forfeiture Act,” during his or her time as a public employee. Those are generally understood to include felonies or serious misdemeanors.

To date, Como has not fallen under those guidelines. But what is there to say about the notion that a man who had damaged the reputation of a district like Coatesvile so badly would still be able to walk away without some sort of recompense, some sort of collateral damage?

The messages that were exchanged between the two men and uncovered by innocent district staff were not simply the type of “politically incorrect” speech that many in the community believe should be ignored in light of the fact that Como had established a solid track record of service to the community. They were not inartfully expressed, but ultimately innocent, jibes. They marked, rather, a vile betrayal of what an educator and esteemed administrator should be – a pillar of the community, someone who commands respect through private character as well as public reputation.

Giving a man who has tarnished himself so badly a financial payout, as legal and proper as it may be within the confines of a set of statutory standards, suits us as morally distasteful. We are cognizant that there are punishments that many in the public eye receive when their misdeeds are exposed that go beyond mere pecuniary or penal damages. Como, whose family hails from Chester County and who made his mark here over the years, is perhaps an anathema wherever he goes in the community now. When he attempts to look an old acquaintance in the eye, we expect a cold stare will be his only return.

In the end, we may not stop Como from collecting that pension, but we can hope that whatever amount of money that flows into his pockets burns his fingers as he tries to spend it.

-The Mercury

Nov. 11

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