Lincoln Charter School approves overdue audits, refuses to release them

Junior Gonzalez
York Dispatch

Lincoln Charter School approved two years of overdue audits during a meeting Thursday, April 5, but school officials refused to release the audits for public review.

Lincoln Charter School, 559 W. King St., York City  Amanda J. Cain photo

Independent financial audits for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years were approved by board members Edquina Washington, Kyle Moore, Maribel Burgos and Renitta Franklin.

There was no discussion held regarding the approved audits.

The meeting agenda included a section to discuss the audits with financial consultant Tom Taylor of the accounting firm Repice and Taylor, but he was out of the country Thursday, according to Lincoln Charter School Principal and CEO Leonard Hart, so a walk-through of the audits was continued until May’s board meeting.

When asked about the contents of the audit after the meeting, board treasurer Michael Doweary said the contents were discussed during the March school board meeting.

York City Business Administrator and Bracey campaign surrogate Michael Doweary debates York City mayoral candidate Michael Helfrich in Weinstock Lecture Hall at York College of Pennsylvania in Spring Garden Township, Thursday, April 20, 2017. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Doweary — who is also York City's business administrator — refused to “go over a 46-page audit” when pressed about the contents of both audits.

A representative for the school refused to provide copies of the audits after the meeting and said a Right-to-Know Law request would need to be filed in order to obtain them.

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

Deja vu: The Lincoln Charter School board's action is similar to that of the Helen Thackston Charter School board, which held a last-minute meeting 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. In Thackston's case, board members wouldn't describe what was in the documents. That board also required The York Dispatch to file a Right-to-Know Law request for the public documents.

The fate of the school might hinge on those audits. 

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

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, there were conditions attached to that deal, including a stipulation that Thackston complete independent audits for the 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years.

If it failed to do so, the embattled school would have to close at the end of the current school year.

When Thackston officials did turn over the audits in response to the Right-to-Know Law request, each report began with a notable disclaimer from the auditor.

"... (W)e were unable to verify and test the account balances for receivables, accounts payable, fixed assets, Local Educational Agency Assistance, and expenditures because the School was unable to produce adequate records for the year under audit."

York City district officials said an unverifiable audit is an incomplete one, which prompted the district’s official notice to Thackston on Feb. 10 to close by June or face a lawsuit to ensure it.

However, Thackston’s lawyers beat the district to it, filing a lawsuit Feb. 20 in which they contend the three audits submitted on Jan. 31 met the requirement set in the agreement.

The district countersued, asking for a declaratory judgment to ensure the charter school’s closure by June 30. The district also wants Thackston to pay its attorney’s fees.

The two sides are scheduled to meet at a pre-trial conference hearing April 17 in York County Court.

Schools' ties: Lincoln and Thackston charter schools have been linked since Thackston's creation in 2009.

Helen Thackson Charter School board President Danyiell Newman reviews documents during a rescheduled board meeting Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017. Bill Kalina photo

Oscar Rossum was president of the Lincoln Charter School board when he submitted the charter school application for Thackston. He's now an administrative assistant with Thackston.

Until recently, Thackston board president Danyiell Newman also served on Lincoln's board, along with Paulette Hawkins, the wife of Thackston's vice president, Frank Hawkins. Paulette Hawkins resigned from the Lincoln board on Dec. 7, 2017, and Newman resigned on Jan. 8.

Both of their resignations were accepted by the remaining Lincoln board members on Feb. 1.

Frank Hawkins, Helen Thackston Charter School board vice president, Thursday, July 27, 2017. John A. Pavoncello photo

Lincoln's audits: Based on a brief summary given by Lincoln Charter's business manager, Vanessa Cusaac, during last month’s board meeting, there are five findings in the 2014-15 audit and three in the 2015-16 audit.

She said many of the findings were conclusions “we knew we were going to have,” including financial management issues, which she said were because of issues with the school’s former management firm, EdisonLearning.

Last month, the Lincoln school board approved a $65,000 settlement between the school and EdisonLearning for management services provided to the district.

The settlement was reached to resolve a $274,000 debt owed to EdisonLearning, according to the settlement agreement obtained through a Right-to-Know Law request.

Future audits: Doweary stated the school is on track to approve audits for two school years in the next six months, including those for the 2016-17 school year in July and the 2017-18 school year in October.

Lincoln Charter’s school board will hold its next meeting Thursday, May 3.