Thackston board OKs long overdue audits, refuses to release or even describe them

Junior Gonzalez
York Dispatch

The Helen Thackston Charter School board held a last-minute special meeting Tuesday, Jan. 30, to approve what members said were three years' worth of overdue audits.

However, the board did not make copies of the audits available and refused to allow members of the public to inspect them, and board members wouldn't even describe what was in the documents.

Helen Thackston Charter School, 625 E. Philadelphia St., York. Amanda J. Cain photo

What those public documents contain could determine whether the embattled charter school closes at the end of the current school year or after the 2018-19 year.

The York City school board and Thackston's board agreed last October to cancel charter revocation hearings and instead simply dissolve the school after the 2018-19 school year.

However, the agreement included requirements for Thackston pertaining to record-keeping, enrollment and the completion of several years of independent audits, including the 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years.

Those audits had to be finalized and submitted to the York City School District by Wednesday, Jan. 31, or the school would close following the 2017-18 school year.

Thackston board president Danyiell Newman and board members Frank Hawkins Marcia Glover, Robert Safran and Nacole Gaines voted Tuesday to approve what they said were the financial summaries for the 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years.

Board member Kayla Sanchez was absent.

Board members started the meeting then quickly went into executive session to speak by phone with school solicitor Brian Leinhauser, according to Newman.

The board reconvened 20 minutes later, approved each of the three audits and adjourned the meeting.

The public parts of the meeting lasted less than three minutes.

More:Thackston CEO: Audits complete, ready for approval

More:York City, Thackston boards agree to close charter school after 2018-19

More:Oversight of Thackston a case study as state considers charter reform

Public documents: Before the meeting, Thackston business manager Thomas Taylor refused to release the public documents, saying they needed to be provided to the school district first on Wednesday morning before they could be provided to The York Dispatch.

There is no language in the dissolution agreement that states the district must see the public documents first.

Still, Taylor said, Leinhauser had advised a Right-to-Know Law request would need to be submitted before the documents are released.

The business manager declined even to describe what was in the audits — again, he said, based on Leinhauser's advice.

Helen Thackson Charter School rescheduled board meeting Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017. Bill Kalina photo

Likewise, the board members all declined to comment on the audits or describe what was in them, citing the recommendation of their solicitor.

Reached by phone after the meeting, Leinhauser said he was not going to speak about his "privileged communications" with Thackston staff and board members.

Helen Thackson Charter School rescheduled board meeting Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017. Bill Kalina photo

Leinhauser also stated that the public documents would be available through a Right-to-Know Law request.

The audits are public documents that were due as far back as 2014 to the Department of Education and the York City School District under the school's charter agreement.

The York Dispatch previously has filed a Right-to-Know Law request for the three years of audits.

Earlier Tuesday, Thackston Consulting CEO Carlos Lopez told The York Dispatch that copies of the audits would be available for public review. 

After the meeting, Lopez, who was not present at the meeting, declined to comment until he could speak with the school's solicitor about why the public documents were not available.

Reached Wednesday morning, Lopez said Leinhauser told him he believed it was appropriate for the school district to see the audits before they are released to the public.

He said he had received The York Dispatch's Right-to-Know request and would speak to Leinhauser about when they could release those audits, which he submitted to the district Wednesday morning.

Done? Not quite: After approval of the audits Tuesday night, auditors will immediately begin working on the school's audit for the 2016-17 school year, Lopez said. 

"It'll be one right after the other," he said.

The school will use the same auditing firm — Conshohocken, Montgomery County-based St. Clair CPA Solutions — to complete the audit for the past school year.

The 2016-17 school year audit is due to York City School District administrators on April 1 and also has a stipulation requiring timely submission to avoid a closure this June, according to the agreement.

With about two months remaining until that audit's due date, administrators will continue the sense of urgency taken for the Jan. 31 deadline, according to Lopez.

"We know that as we move forward, we're going to be more timely in terms of meeting the needs for the district," he said.

In a telephone call Wednesday, Jan. 31, York City school board President Margie Orr said while she is “a little leery” at the audit's last-minute submission, she will meet with district administrators later in the week to find out more information on the audits.

Orr added that an incomplete audit would be unsatisfactory to her, as would an audit with troubling financial practices.

Fellow district board member James Sawor said he will withhold judgment on the audits until he reviews the documents, but he added he is confident that the board “couldn’t possibly be satisfied” with an incomplete audit.