York City school board calls special meeting on Thackston Charter School

David Weissman
York Dispatch

Cancellations and postponements continue for Helen Thackston Charter School and the York City School District as both the charter school and the district have announced special meetings on Thursday, Oct. 19.

The charter school has postponed a meeting initially scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 17 to 5 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 19 according to a post on the school's website.

Thackston's meetings is scheduled to commence just 90 minutes before the York City school board will hold a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19, relating to the struggling charter school, according to a post on the district's website.

These meetings were called as the first three scheduled charter revocation hearings were canceled without explanation.

York City school district board member James Sawor said he did not know details about Thursday's special board meeting aside from its relation to Thackston.

When reached, York City school board vice president Michael Miller and board member Jose Santiago declined to divulge any details on the special Thursday meeting.

The York City school board will hold a regular board meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 18, though no mention is made of Thackston in the meeting's draft agenda.

Phone calls to district board president Margie Orr, and board members Michael Breeland, Juanita Kirkland, Lois Garnett and David Moser were not immediately returned on Tuesday, Oct. 17.

Thackston notice: Thackston CEO Carlos Lopez said Monday morning that an agenda for the charter school's special meeting would be available, but he later told The York Dispatch that the school's solicitor advised him not to make an agenda available.

Reached via telephone Monday afternoon, Thackston solicitor Brian Leinhauser said he was "not at liberty to discuss" the contents of the Tuesday meeting aside from its 4:30 p.m. start time.

When asked what efforts the school had made to notify the public of the meeting, Leinhauser initially referred to the meeting as an "emergency meeting."

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

He later clarified in a separate telephone call that the meeting will be a special board meeting.

According to state open-records laws, agencies are required to provide legal public notice of a special meeting at least 24 hours in advance of the time of the meeting.

Public notice is defined as "publication of the place, date and time of a meeting in a newspaper of general circulation ... which is published and circulated in the political subdivision where the meeting will be held."

No public notice of the meeting was published in any York County newspapers.

When told no recent issues of York County newspapers, including The York Dispatch, had notices of the special meeting, Leinhauser said he thought he asked Thackston officials "to coordinate those efforts," but he will follow up on whether they did.

About an hour later, Oscar Rossum, an administrator at the school, unsuccessfully sought to purchase an advertisement through the The York Dispatch to announce the special meeting on Tuesday.

Rossum had contacted the newsroom and was directed to the York Newspaper Co.'s advertising department.

Even if he had been successful, the advertisement would not have fulfilled the 24-hour prior notice requirement.

Public notice is not required for an emergency meeting, which is defined as a meeting dealing with "a real or potential emergency involving a clear and present danger to life or property."

Melissa Melewsky, a Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association attorney, said state law doesn't require agencies to advertise the purpose of special meetings, but it is certainly good practice.

"It's just smart government to let the public know as much about a meeting in advance as possible," she said.

Lopez declined to say whether the meeting was being called to finalize three years' worth of overdue audits, which have been cited as a major issue as the school faces charter revocation hearings.

Leinhauser said after the board's Sept. 28 meeting  that a special meeting would be called as soon as the audits for school years 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16 were ready for board approval.

More:2nd charter revocation hearing canceled as York City district, Thackston officials huddle

More:Thackston preparing to make its case against charter revocation

Thackston is facing closure after York City School District moved to pursue revocation of its charter, citing a laundry list of concerns that included the overdue audits, declining student performance and inadequate staff certifications.

Revocation hearings were scheduled to begin Friday, Oct. 13, but that hearing and hearings scheduled for Monday, Oct. 16 and Tuesday, Oct. 17, were canceled, according to a district spokeswoman.

Thackston and district officials have been quiet about why the hearings were canceled.

Lopez told The York Dispatch on Friday that Leinhauser was meeting with representatives from the district, but he declined to say what was being discussed at the meeting.

A post on the district website states that hearing officer Ellen Schurdak granted the cancellations based on joint requests from counsel for Thackston and the district.

Allison Peterson, counsel for the district, has not responded to multiple requests seeking comment.

The hearing is continued until 10 a.m. Friday, Oct. 20, and set to take place at the district administration building, located at 31 N. Pershing Ave.

—Education reporter Junior Gonzalez contributed to this report.