State: Thackston hasn't filed financial reports since 2012
Helen Thackston's Charter School is at risk of losing its charter for multiple issues, including allegations involving self-dealing by its former board president. Wochit
As the York City School District prepares to hold charter revocation hearings, Helen Thackston Charter School isn't likely to find support from the state Department of Education.
That's because the department last received an annual report from Thackston following the 2011-12 school year, according to department spokeswoman Casey Smith.
State charter-school law requires charter schools to submit annual reports by Aug. 1 each year, Smith wrote in an email. Failure to do so represents a violation that can be used as a basis for an authorizing school district to revoke the school's charter.
Annual reports include a charter school's financial audits, meeting dates, leadership changes, certification status of staff members and fundraising activities, among other information.
Smith wrote that the department has notified the York City School District about Thackston's repeated failures to submit annual reports.
In a June resolution moving to start revocation proceedings for Thackston’s charter, the district school board specifically stated that Thackston failed to file its annual reports on time for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years.
The resolution goes on to state that Thackston filed those reports on or about Aug. 1, 2016, but they were incomplete.
Renewal: The district school board's solicitor, Jeff Gettle, could not be reached to determine if the district had received reports for the 2012-13 and 2015-16 school years that were not received by the state.
The district school board receiving or not receiving the annual report for the 2012-13 school year is important because the board voted in early 2014 to approve a five-year renewal of Thackston's charter.
Former board member Glenn Medice and current member Diane Brown were the only two to vote against the renewal. Neither could be reached for comment.
York City school board president Margie Orr, who had voted in favor of the renewal, said by phone Tuesday that she couldn't recall whether the board received the 2012-13 annual report from Thackston before voting to renew its charter in 2014, but insisted the conversation move toward the revocation process.
"Our vote to renew — that's over and done with," she said. "We can't keep looking back, you have to move forward."
The state Auditor General's Office issued a scathing report auditing Thackston from July 1, 2010, to Oct. 9, 2013, but that report wasn't released until June 2015, more than a year after the district's renewal vote.
"In the Thackston charter school's case, there is no way to account for every dollar or to know if the school operated as intended because (of) a breakdown of internal controls," Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said at the time. "The lack of documentation makes it nearly impossible to draw any sound conclusion."
DePasquale, a former state House member representing York City, went on to emphasize the case was greater than a local issue, because Thackston's reimbursements also come from the state's Department of Education.
"Those are all of our tax dollars," he said. "We owe it to parents, taxpayers and especially the students to make sure that every education dollar is focused on improving learning opportunities."
It's unclear if the city school board had more information than the auditor general was able to gather for his audit when the members voted to renew Thackston's charter.
Charter school law allows a school district to renew a charter for a one-year period if the board determines there is insufficient data concerning the charter school's academic performance, but York City School District did not exercise that option.
Audits: The district's resolution also states that Thackston hasn't completed or filed independent financial audits to the district for the 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years.
Thackston's solicitor, Brian Leinhauser, could not be reached for comment for this story, but he has said that the charter school just needs more time to turn in all the proper documentation.
He told the district board in June that Thackston had to file subpoenas and adopt resolutions in order to obtain all necessary documents to conduct the audits, but those documents are now in hand and the audits are in progress.
The York Dispatch has submitted Right-to-Know requests to Thackston and York City School District for any Thackston audits since 2010.
Taxpayer funded: Susan Woods, spokeswoman for the Auditor General's Office, wrote in an email that school audits are important to ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent appropriately and that the schools are functioning in a manner that supports the education of students.
Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, said failing to submit timely audits is a good way for Thackston to ensure closure.
"That's public taxpayer money," he said.
Grove, who serves on the House Education Committee, said Thackston's issues are another example of why the state needs to pass House Bill 97, which aims to provide comprehensive charter-school reform.
The bill, which currently sits in the House Rules Committee, would provide more accountability, transparency and oversight control for the state's charter schools, Grove said.
The state's charter-school law was created in 1997, and Grove said it's time to update the law to provide a stronger foundation.
Board meeting: Thackston is scheduled to hold its first board meeting for the 2017-18 school year at 6 p.m. Thursday at the school at 625 E. Philadelphia St. in York City.
The meeting also will be the school's first since recent public developments, 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.
GeoSource: The district school board's June resolution stated that 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.
Mehosky told The York Dispatch on July 18 that he would provide documentation proving he relinquished his interest in GeoSource prior to becoming board president as soon as he could receive the documents from his former law firm. He has not yet provided any documentation and did not respond to a follow-up email.
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. 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.
The York City School District recently appointed Bethlehem-based attorney Ellen C. Schurdak to serve as hearing officer for the coming revocation hearings.
The formal first hearing date has not been announced, but Orr has said she anticipates the date — planned on or about Aug. 1 — will be announced soon.
— Reporter Junior Gonzalez contributed to this report.
— If you or anyone you know has any knowledge of Helen Thackston Charter School's operations, please contact reporter David Weissman at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.