Thackston Charter School headed to revocation hearings without 3 years of audits
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.
When asked why the audits haven't been completed, Thackston's solicitor said, "I don't know."
Its operating charter on the line, Helen Thackston Charter School is heading into revocation hearings in two weeks without the approval of crucial financial audits it had indicated would be completed months ago.
Board members met Thursday, Sept. 28, and approved several action items, including the resignation of board member Lisa Kennedy, but no discussions were held regarding the missing audits.
The charter school stated in its most recent annual report that the audits for 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years were complete and were scheduled for board approval on July 27.
After failing to meet the required number of board members to proceed with the July 27 meeting, the board met Aug. 9, but no audits were approved at that meeting either.
Thackston solicitor Brian Leinhauser has said he expected completion and approval of the audits before the start of the revocation hearings, but no such measure appeared on the agenda for Thursday night's meeting.
The Sept. 28 meeting was the final scheduled board meeting before the start of the hearings.
In early June, the York City School District introduced a resolution listing more than 20 reasons for revoking Thackston's charter.
- Poor and declining academic performance
- Lower-than-required teacher certification levels
- Failure to timely submit required documents, including all child abuse clearances, financial audits and annual reports.
The auditor hired by Thackston, Citrin and Cooperman, requested additional documents from the school in regard to the 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years.
Leinhauser said the firm acknowledged receipt of some information, but the school was unable to supply all of the documents requested.
He added Citrin and Cooperman could complete the audits by noting in its findings that some requested documents were not supplied.
When asked why the firm hasn't completed the audits, Leinhauser said, “I don’t know.”
Thackston’s solicitor acknowledged Citrin and Cooperman had not been paid by the school until recently, which he said is one of the “holdups” in completing the audits.
The firm has since received compensation from the school, according to the school’s most recent financial report.
The 2016-17 financial audit process is underway, according to Leinhauser. The school has put the audit out to bid to auditing firms.
Barring a special board meeting held within the next two weeks, Thackston will not have its external financial audits completed before charter revocation hearings commence on Oct. 13.
Leinhauser said the board would hold a special meeting “the minute (audits) are released,” in accordance with the Sunshine Act.
Board member Frank Hawkins said the audits were delayed because of trouble obtaining documents from companies the school contracted with, some of which are no longer in business.
“It wasn’t us that was the holdup,” he said. “It was the people that we have employed to provide us with certain things. ... They said, ‘We’ll take our time to give you what you need.’”
Hawkins said he is certain the board will meet to approve the audits before the revocation hearings start.
Board resignation: Thursday's meeting was the last one for board member Kennedy, who is running for a seat on the York City school board.
Thackston's board unanimously accepted her resignation, which will take effect Oct. 1.
“Thank you for the opportunity to serve with you all,” she said in her parting statement. “Please keep plugging away at it. I just want you to keep doing what you’re doing.”
Board members congratulated Kennedy in her likely move to the York City school board as well as her service to Thackston.
Kennedy may be in the position of voting on the revocation of Thackston's charter.
After Thursday's meeting, Kennedy said that would not happen.
“Once I am there, it would be a conflict of interest for me to vote,” she said, “so I would be abstaining from that vote.”
Revocation hearings: With revocation hearings weeks away, Leinhauser said he hopes to see as much parental and board attendance as possible at the hours-long sessions.
Thackston CEO Carlos Lopez said he has been contacted by parents asking how they could help the school in its charter fight and asked Leinhauser what he should relay to parents.
While Leinhauser called the 10 a.m. start time for most dates “unfortunate,” he said he will seek testimony from parents as needed during the hearings.
The public revocation hearings are scheduled for Oct. 13, 16, 17, 20 and 24 and Nov. 15 and 16. The aforementioned hearings will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., according Leinhauser.
Only one hearing, on Oct. 30, will run during afternoon hours, from 2 to 7 p.m.
The hearings will take place at the York City School District administration building, 31 N. Pershing Ave., according to school board secretary Mindy Wantz.
Leinhauser said he will exchange documents he expects to present during the hearings with exhibits from York City attorneys on Friday, Sept. 29.