York City board approves hearing officer for Thackston revocation

Junior Gonzalez
York Dispatch
  • Ellen C. Schurdak an associate attorney at a Bethlehem-based law firm, will oversee revocation hearings.

The York City school board quietly appointed a hearing officer Wednesday night for the upcoming charter revocation hearings for Helen Thackston Charter School.

Ellen C. Schurdak, an attorney with the Bethlehem, Lehigh County, law firm King, Spry, Herman, Freund & Faul LLC, will oversee the public proceedings that are set to begin in a matter of weeks.

York City School District Superintendent Eric Homes speaks 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

The board meeting, which lasted less than 20 minutes, did not include discussion of the appointment, which was approved unanimously with other consent agenda items.

Board members David Moser and Juanita Kirkland were absent. Schurdak was not present at the meeting.

Schurdak is a graduate of Fairfield University in Connecticut and the London School of Economics.

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

She attained her Juris Doctor from the University of Pennsylvania in 1995 and was admitted into the Pennsylvania Bar Association in 1997.

In a profile on the law firm's website, Schurdak is listed as having experience in education law, including complex litigation such as charter school revocation or non-renewal hearings.

Schurdak will be compensated $180 per hour, with travel time billed at $90 hourly, according to the contract.

In the agreement, Schurdak states she will try to schedule hearings “back to back so that the case can move forward quickly” and to save on travel costs to the district.

What's next for Thackston? The charter appeals process

However, later in the agreement, Schurdak states it is “impossible to determine ... the amount of time that will be needed in this case,” but she will make “every effort” to expedite the case.

Board member James Sawor said the appointment was made at the recommendation of district solicitor Jeff Gettle. Board President Margie Orr, who is tasked with signing the agreement, has not spoken or met with Schurdak.

Orr added she was pleased that Schurdak intends to schedule the meetings in quick succession “so it won’t be dragged out.”

Orr said a formal first hearing date has not been scheduled, but she anticipates the date — planned on or around Aug. 1 — will be announced soon.

Thackston woes: Board members were hesitant to discuss recent developments regarding Thackston, including the felony theft charges filed against former business manager Kimberly Kirby, as well as a former Thackston school board president's response to allegations of self-dealing in 2013.

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

In a June resolution moving to start revocation proceedings for Thackston’s charter, the district school board stated a charter school board member failed to disclose his ownership stake in GeoSource Capital LLC, which Thackston contracted with during the 2013-14 school year to provide homeland security curriculum services.

Minutes of a special meeting by the Thackston board on Aug. 19, 2013, show it unanimously approved a one-year contract with GeoSource Capital. The minutes do not indicate what services the company was supposed to provide or how much the company was to be paid.

The York City school board’s resolution alleges the contract was for $130,000.

The resolution did not explicitly name the board member — providing only the initials M.M. — but an investigation by The York Dispatch found the person to be former Thackston board President Michael Mehosky.

Mehosky has denied allegations of wrongdoing, telling The York Dispatch by email that he divested his interests with the company in 2012 before he became board president.

He added in his email that he disclosed his previous relationship with GeoSource to board members prior to the company's presentation and that he did not receive any compensation related to the contract.

Obtaining a copy of the GeoSource contract has proved difficult for Thackston, however. The York City school board asked Thackston in March to provide copies of all contracts with GeoSource no later than April 7, but Thackston's counsel has responded that it could not find any such contract, according to the resolution.

The York Dispatch has submitted a Right-to-Know request to Thackston's solicitor seeking all available information regarding its contract with GeoSource.

There was no discussion regarding the recent developments during Wednesday's York City school board meeting.

When reached afterward, Sawor said if the charges against Mehosky prove to be false, then attorneys could amend the resolution to remove the claim.

Orr said by phone Wednesday afternoon she was confident that the allegation from the June resolution was the correct assessment regarding GeoSource.

Board member Michael Breeland said he would not comment on any matters related to litigation.