Thackston addressing district concerns, but audits still incomplete
Helen Thackston Charter School, facing revocation of its charter, has addressed many deficiencies in a laundry list of complaints from York City School District, but three years' worth of overdue audits remain incomplete.
Thackston's school board met Wednesday, Aug. 9, for a meeting that was rescheduled from July 27 because not enough board members had showed up to vote.
The four members absent July 27 were President Danyiell Newman, Nacole Gaines, Robert Safran and Kayla Sanchez. All four were present Wednesday, while Marcia Glover and Lisa Kennedy were absent. Vice President Frank Hawkins was present for both meetings.
The York City school board voted unanimously in June to initiate hearings to revoke Thackston's charter.
In a resolution written to begin the process, the district cited concerns at Thackston such as declining student performance, inadequate staffing certification and a failure to acquire child-abuse background checks from all employees.
Progress: CEO Carlos Lopez, a former York City School District superintendent, told Thackston school board members Wednesday that the school has addressed many of the school district's grievances:
- In response to the district's allegation that Thackston failed to implement or maintain a homeland security curriculum required by its charter, the school has rewritten its curriculum to align courses with homeland security themes and established new homeland security partnerships.
- In the response to allegations it failed to submit timely reports, the school submitted its 2016-17 annual report to the state Department of Education on time and restructured its administrative team to ensure completion of all state, local and federal reports.
- In response to allegations it failed to meet the 100 percent highly qualified teacher requirement, the school has met with staff to ensure all attain necessary qualifications.
- In response to allegations it failed to adequately fund its retirement and benefit funds, the school completed all payments to the Public School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS) and 403(b) plan administrators.
- In response to allegations it failed to pay its creditors in a timely manner, the school settled its debts with education companies Edison Learning and Catapult Learning, and an agreement has been reached to resolve its dispute with its landlord, Charter School Solutions.
Audits: Chief among the district's concerns was the charter board's failure to file external audits for the 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years.
Thackston solicitor Brian Leinhauser said after the canceled July 27 meeting that he hoped the audits would be completed and ready for board approval by Wednesday's meeting, but they were not.
The company conducting the audit, Citrin and Cooperman, has a few questions that still need to be answered before it can finalize the audits, Leinhauser said.
The 2016-17 annual report submitted to the Department of Education is incomplete because the department requires the report be submitted with an audit that was conducted no more than two years prior to the annual report submission.
The report submitted by Thackston states that its last audit was conducted following the 2012-13 school year, though previous annual reports for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years state that the last audit was conducted following the 2011-12 school year.
Leinhauser said his understanding is the last audit was conducted following the 2012-13 school year, but he hasn't seen that audit, so he couldn't say for sure which annual report is correct.
Completion of the 2012-13 school year audit is important because the district board voted in early 2014 to approve a five-year renewal of Thackston's charter. If the audit was not completed, that means the board approved the renewal without having received an audit of the most recent school year.
The district school board's solicitor, Jeff Gettle, did not respond to a voicemail seeking clarification.
Before receiving its 2016-17 annual report, the state Department of Education last received an annual report from Thackston following the 2011-12 school year, according to spokeswoman Casey Smith.
Leinhauser said his understanding is that the 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16 annual reports were submitted to the department, though they were late and incomplete, without the audits.
Nonprofit: The missing audits also contributed to Thackston losing its federal 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status after the school failed to file a Form 990 with the Internal Revenue Service for three consecutive years.
Form 990, required to be submitted annually to the IRS, provides information about organizations including high-level employee salaries, tax-deductible contributions received and investments.
Lopez, Thackston's CEO, told board members Wednesday that the 990 forms would be completed and sent to the IRS as soon as the external audits are finalized.
State law does not require charter schools to maintain 501(c)(3) status, and Thackston remains an active nonprofit corporation in the state, as required.
Leinhauser said he spoke recently to the hearing officer assigned by the district board for revocation hearings and that while nothing is final, the first hearing will likely be in October.
He said he was confident the overdue audits would be completed, approved and sent to the school district before the first hearing.
— 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.