Thackston Charter School's former biz manager charged with felony theft

Staff report
Helen Thackston Charter School, 625 E. Philadelphia St., York. Amanda J. Cain photo

Helen Thackston Charter School's former business manager allegedly stole more than $12,000 from the school in cash, checks and merchandise, according to police.

Kimberly Lynette Kirby, 39, was fired as Thackston's business manager on Feb. 24 but still had access to the school's bank accounts, according to charging documents.

She withdrew more than $3,500 from one of the accounts at M&T Bank on March 3 that was never returned, the documents state.

Kirby returned to the bank later that day and withdrew more than $12,500 from the same account, though that was deposited into one of the school's other accounts.

Kimberly Lynette Kirby, former business manager for Helen Thackston Charter School

Brian Leinhauser, the school's attorney, reviewed the school's bank accounts after he was made aware of the withdrawals and found that Kirby had cashed a check for $850 that was not used for any school purchases.

The school also received an invoice on March 1 from its Newegg Business account for nearly $8,300 for transactions that occurred between Dec. 28, 2016, and Jan. 30. Only $275 was accounted for, according to police.

Newegg is an online retailer that sells computer hardware and electronics.

All items purchased from the invoice were delivered to Kirby's home, in the 200 block of South Penn Street in York City, and they were mostly "things for the home," according to the documents.

Charges: York City Police filed for Kirby's arrest March 29, charging her with accessing a device issued to another who did not authorize its use and theft by unlawful taking. Both are third-degree felonies.

More:York City board votes to start Thackston charter revocation

Kirby's attorney, Chris Ferro, said Thursday that he and his client believe the charges and allegations are "not wholly accurate," but he declined to provide details about what they disputed.

Kirby's formal arraignment is scheduled for 9 a.m. July 21 before York County Common Pleas Judge Michael Bortner.

Ferro said Kirby has waived her preliminary hearing, and no pretrial conference date has been set.

No one answered the door when a reporter went to Kirby's residence Thursday afternoon.

Ferro also confirmed that Kirby is the sister of Denise Butts, the school's former principal who was formally let go by the Thackston board at its June 22 meeting. She had been on a leave of absence since March.

Things "didn't feel right": Michael Doweary, business administrator for York City, held the title of treasurer for the Helen Thackston Charter School board for a little over a year, between December 2015 and February 2017. 

Doweary said he stepped down earlier this year because the treasurer's role and responsibilities didn't match that of most treasurers. 

During his stint, Doweary said, he was privy to the school's monthly financials and helped facilitate discussions between the board and those in control of the school's finances, but he "definitely felt like things weren't right" within the organization's setup.

"There was a need for more internal control. The weaker your controls are, the more susceptible you are to theft," Doweary said. 

Doweary said Thackston had well-known issues with finances when he was brought on, and he was tasked with implementing new protocols and putting financial controls in place to avoid any issues in the future.

Doweary credited the board for outsourcing much of its accounting operations to third parties, including the Citrin Cooperman firm.

After reading the allegations against Kirby, Doweary said he wasn't surprised she had been charged.

"Anybody who knows anything about accounting knows you can't just pull that money out. There's going to be a record somewhere," Doweary said, noting a cash withdrawal from a business "throws a red flag up immediately" for any accountant.

Reactions: York City School District board president Margie Orr said she had been aware of problems at Helen Thackston but had not heard of the recent charges. She had no additional comment.

York City board member James Sawor also reacted to the news, saying the wrongdoing "seems to be a pattern with charter schools that are going under in York City."

"It's in the police's hands now," he said.

Helen Thackston board member Lisa Kennedy said board members have been aware of an issue regarding Kirby, but because of ongoing litigation between the school and the York City School District, she refused to comment any further on the investigation.

Kennedy won the Democratic nomination for a seat on the York City school board and will be one of three people on the ballot for four open seats during the municipal election in November.

York City Mayor Kim Bracey also said she found out about Kirby's charges by reading about them online, and she said she was saddened by the prospect of people taking advantage of young students.

"At the end of the day, this is about the kids and trying to provide them with a safe environment for public education," Bracey said. "To hear people are taking advantage of the situation stinks."

Thackston: The struggling Helen Thackston school has faced numerous setbacks in recent years, starting with a scathing report from Auditor General Eugene DePasquale in 2015.

The York City school board in February listed several demands for Thackston to meet or risk losing its charter.

No other Helen Thackston board members could be reached for comment, and Leinhauser, the solicitor, did not return calls for comment.

In June, the district school board received documentation from the school that raised even more issues, and the board moved in August to start revocation hearings for Thackston’s charter.

— Reach reporter David Weissman at or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.