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The Helen Thackston Charter School board of directors voted to eliminate two positions as school officials look to save wherever they can amid skyrocketing health care costs.

The board unanimously accepted the resignations of teacher Erin Messer and assistant business manager Megan Kirszenbaum. Messer will be replaced by Roni Reed, an instructional coach at the school. The vacancies left by Reed and Kirszenbaum will not be filled, as board members voted to eliminate both positions at their Nov. 30 meeting.

Health care spike: Thackston CEO Carlos Lopez said the eliminations will help save the district about $80,000 toward covering the anticipated rise in health care costs for staff in 2018.

Lopez said he initially expected health care costs to rise by 7 percent, but he said costs outlined by insurance provider Benecon showed the school’s health insurance rising by 15 percent in 2018, or about $120,000.

“It kind of shocked me,” Lopez told the board.

He said he arranged a meeting with the insurer and told them, “We need to look at other possibilities to reduce that number.”

Benecon returned with several plan options that would reduce the overall cost to the school but will include some concessions, including an increase in employee out-of-pocket costs for emergency room visits.

Lopez will survey staff to see which options they prefer and present the results at the next board meeting on Thursday, Dec. 21, he said.

Audit update: The meeting included several other announcements from Lopez, including progress on the audit  and reduced utilization of the school’s solicitor.

Lopez said Thackston business manager Tom Taylor indicated that external auditors are working out of Taylor’s office in Philadelphia to “complete what is required before Jan. 31, 2018,” which includes independent financial audits for the 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years.

If the school does not complete and approve the audits for the outstanding school years, it faces closure by next June.

More: Thackston mostly keeps up with initial deadlines

More: Thackston Charter board hires new auditor as more deadlines loom

More: With Thackston closing, its CEO already planning new charter school

Lopez announced to board members that most deadlines were met  Nov. 1, with the exception of a tax claim settlement.

Lopez said that deadline was missed because of erroneous amounts being sent to different city departments in pursuit of settling the claim. The mistake was corrected, and the tax claim was settled  Nov. 3, he said.

Lopez said the school is working to provide all information needed to complete the audits.

“Our No. 1 goal is to have those three audits completed,” he said.

Fewer legal visits: After the charter school’s fate was effectively sealed in October with the conditional closure agreement reached between Thackston’s board and the York City school board, Thackston will reduce the utilization of its solicitor.

The school’s solicitor, Brian Leinhauser, a partner at the Malvern, Pennsylvania-based MacMain Law Group, will be notified by Thackston’s board on which board meetings he should attend, Lopez said.

Lopez also said he communicated to the attorneys that “if there is anything that is due to the district that the administration could do ... we will do,” all in an effort to make sure  the school keeps attorney’s costs under control.

When asked about it after the meeting, Lopez said, “Why would we pay (the solicitor) $1,200 when I can cover what he does in most meetings?”

He said the school's solicitor is “reasonable,” but any place to save money can go a long way to close the gap in anticipated health care increases.

“If I don’t charge him, he won’t charge us,” he said.

Reach education reporter Junior Gonzalez at jgonzalez@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter @EducationYD.
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