Thackston not out of the woods on '18 closure

Junior Gonzalez
York Dispatch

While Helen Thackston Charter School turned in three years of audits to the York City School District by a hair’s breadth on condition of a dissolution agreement, it might still be at risk of closure at the end of the current school year.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Students return to Helen Thackston Charter School Wednesday with all construction completed. Bill Kalina photo

According to York City school board president Margie Orr, district administrators found “some discrepancies” in the financial documents submitted by Thackston officials last Wednesday, Jan. 31, but added she wasn’t privy to additional information.

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.

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

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

However, a condition in the closure agreement states that if the charter school failed to approve and submit completed independent audits for the 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years by Jan. 31, it must surrender its charter and close upon the end of the current school year.

Waiting on lawyers: Orr said she didn’t receive a definitive answer from administrators on whether the documents were sufficient for further action.

“We will wait until we hear something from our solicitor,” she said.

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

So far, Thackston officials have been mum on the three years of audits since their approval in a special board meeting on Jan. 30. Thackston’s business manager initially refused to provide the documents, and officials declined to even describe what was found in them.

The audits were later obtained by The York Dispatch through a Right to Know Law request. In each document, auditors include a disclaimer noting, in part, “the School was unable to produce adequate records for the year under audit."

Each report concluded the school was missing staff and pupil records as well as financial records.

More:Thackston audits: 'Unable to produce adequate records'

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

For the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years, auditors had issues verifying the school's reporting of daily attendance for federal Title I grants.

Thackston Consulting CEO Carlos Lopez did not return a voicemail seeking comment on Tuesday, Feb. 6.

Weighing new state audit: In June 2015, a state audit of Thackston covering the school’s operations from 2010 to 2013 had 10 findings that exposed lax recordkeeping, low teacher certifications and potential double-billing for tuition reimbursements — all issues the York City school board raised in resolutions years after state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale’s review of the charter school.

More:State audit shows multiple concerns at York City's Thackston Charter

In a statement, DePasquale spokeswoman Susan Woods said the auditor general is weighing whether it is worth conducting another audit of a school already scheduled to close.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale outlines the findings of an audit of the York City School District, Thursday, April 20, 2017. John A. Pavoncello photo

“In June 2015,  the Department of the Auditor General issued a very scathing audit of this charter school,” Woods wrote.

“At this point, we are evaluating the merits of audit(ing) a charter school that is scheduled to be shuttered.

“That said, if the Helen Thackston Charter School somehow remains open – which we do not think will happen – Auditor General DePasquale will evaluate auditing options.”

York City School District attorneys are currently poring through the three years of audits  — a combined 144 pages — and administrators will provide a statement on the documents in the coming week, according to a district spokeswoman.

The satisfaction of York City School District administrators over the independent audits  is still unknown, but another year of the school’s operation until the end of the 2018-19 school year could cost district taxpayers millions of dollars.

The school’s annual revenue over the three audited years averaged $7.6 million — $6.1 million of which came in payments from the York City School District.

Next meeting: The York City school board will hold a committee meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 12, at the district’s administration building at 31 N. Pershing Ave.