Thackston Charter will not appeal, board votes to dissolve at end of June

Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Students return to Helen Thackston Charter School Wednesday with all construction completed. Bill Kalina photo

The Helen Thackston Charter School board decided not to appeal the court ruling ordering it to close by the end of June.

At the board meeting Thursday, June 28, members voted unanimously in favor of a dissolution agreement.

Most board members declined to comment after the meeting, but member Marcia Glover said simply, "We're sorry it's closing."

Teachers will be informed by letter Friday, June 29, and students will have the opportunity to come to the school parking lot at 1:30 p.m. that day for a going-away party with hot dogs and refreshments.

They can take T-shirts and water bottles as a goodbye gift from the school.

More:Judge: Helen Thackston Charter School must close by end of June

More:Thackston, facing closure, and York City Schools outline their cases ahead of trial

More:LIVE: Thackston-York City School District court trial

Helen Thackston Charter School Principal Denise Butts, left, confers with the school's attorney, Brian Leinhauser, as the York City School District holds a special meeting regarding the future of Helen Thackston Charter School at the Administration Building in York City, Feb. 13, 2017. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Background: Thackston lost its legal battle with York City School District when courts ruled in the district's favor on June 15.

The school was ordered to close by June 30 — a date set in an October 2017 agreement with the district if the charter failed to turn in completed overdue audits by the end of January 2018.

The agreement was formed to avoid drawn-out revocation hearings reminiscent of those that New Hope Charter School went through before its closure in 2014.

More:Thackston Charter: A look back at New Hope, York City's last charter school fight

But Thackston ended up in court with the district after a disagreement over whether it had fulfilled its part of the agreement.

When Thackston's audits were submitted, they had disclaimers, meaning documents were missing that prevented the auditing firm from rendering an opinion on its financial situation. 

More:Thackston Charter sues York City district over closure agreement

More:York district countersues Thackston, seeks order closing school, plus attorney fees

More:Thackston school's fate to be determined by judge's interpretation of completed audits

Though the charter argued that, legally, a disclaimer audit is one of four audits that can be submitted, York County Common Pleas Judge Richard K. Renn ultimately sided with the district.

What will happen to the assets? The charter's assets will not be liquidated or auctioned, said school solicitor Brian Leinhauser.

The charter had previously settled with its landlord in relation to back rent it owed. Part of that settlement involved "a fixed sum in favor of the land," he said.

That sum was secured by property owned by the school, so its assets will be transferred to the landlord to settle that debt.

The only assets not eligible for debt settlement are those bought through the federal Title I program, Leinhauser said.

They would go to another entity eligible for Title I, such as another charter, the school district or the state Department of Education. 

Helen Thackson Charter School solicitor Brian Leinhauser addresses the board during a rescheduled board meeting Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017. Bill Kalina photo

Documents: Student records will return to the district of origin — in this case, York City.

In past dissolution proceedings, districts have claimed they didn't receive records, Leinhauser said, so this exchange will include a record of receipt.

His office will act as a fail-safe, holding additional electronic copies of school documents such as records of employment and emails, as well as student transcripts.

The Department of Education has copied all special education files, so the district cannot say it was unaware of those students' needs — another issue that has arisen with dissolutions in the past.

Process: Board President Danyiell Newman said she asked Leinhauser to be involved in the process since he'd previously handled school dissolutions.

"It's a lot of moving parts," he admitted.

The district has already retrieved property it loaned to the charter, he said.

Immediate next steps will be gathering records and downloading the school's data from a server to a portable storage device. 

Once school assets are gathered, they will reach out to the state Department of Education and pay outstanding grants.

Those steps should take about 30 to 40 days.

Next comes resolving financial issues such as outstanding debts and liabilities. First, teachers will be paid their due, followed by vendors that worked with the school, two judgment creditors — outstanding rent and the more than $56,000 in court-ordered legal fees — and non-judgment creditors.

"I don't anticipate much money left," Leinhauser said, but he noted that the rest would go back to the district, in accordance with Pennsylvania Charter School Law.

Administration and staff are expected to be out of the building by July 31, he said.

The final step will be officially notifying the public of impending dissolution, a 30-day waiting period for any outstanding creditors to come forward and the act of dissolving the corporation itself.

"The process is somewhat cumbersome," Leinhauser said, but he hopes to move through requirements as efficiently as possible.