Thackston school's fate to be determined by judge's interpretation of completed audits
Helen Thackston Charter School's seniors are set to graduate Friday, June 1; two weeks later, a judge is set to decide whether that will be the school's final graduating class.
Thackston officials are locked in a legal battle with York City School District that will determine whether the charter school will close after this school year or the next.
Facing charter revocation hearings, Thackston's board signed an agreement in October with the school district to close following the 2018-19 school year.
Part of that agreement stated, however, that Thackston must close following the 2017-18 school year if it failed to complete overdue audits for 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16 and turn them in to the district by Jan. 31, 2018.
Thackston submitted those audits to the district on Jan. 31, but each came with a disclaimer:
"... (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."
The district's school board, not satisfied with those audits, authorized its solicitors in February to pursue legal action to ensure the closure of the charter school by the end of the current school year.
Thackston then sued the school district to stay open through 2018-19, the school district countersued to close it this year, and a non-jury trial has been set for 9:30 a.m. June 15 at the York County Judicial Center to resolve the dispute.
York County Court of Commons Pleas Judge Richard Renn, who will oversee the case, notes in his order scheduling the trial that "the main issue in the case is what constitutes an 'audit' as that term is used in the agreement."
"It would appear that the audits without opinion are not 'complete,' however that remains an issue the Court will have to decide," Renn wrote in the order.
Thackston’s lawyers have argued that a disclaimer audit is one of four results that can come from an audit — a qualified audit, an unqualified audit, an adverse audit and a disclaimer audit — and the district didn’t specify any of that in the closure agreement.
A spokeswoman for the district wrote in an email that they would not be commenting on a pending court case, and Thackston's solicitor did not return a voicemail seeking comment.
Thackston has existed as a middle school since 2009 and added high school grades in 2013. The district approved a five-year renewal of Thackston's charter in 2014, just months ahead of a scathing audit from the state Auditor General's Office, which cited issues including an inadequate number of certified staff members and missing documentation.
The school district voted to initiate revocation hearings in June 2017 — citing the overdue audits among myriad other issues — but those hearings were canceled once the agreement was signed.
Lincoln: In its lawsuit, Thackston's lawyers have brought up that the school district has overdue audits from another charter school it oversees, but it has not pursued revocation of that school's charter.
In response, the school district's attorneys have filed a motion seeking to preclude any testimony or evidence regarding the audit report status of any other charter school, arguing that it would be irrelevant to the case at hand.
The filed motion includes a segment of Thackston's deposition of district Superintendent Eric Holmes, where he admits the district has not received the 2013-14 audit for Lincoln Charter School.
"Of course it's a concern," Holmes said of the overdue audit during the deposition, "but we don't have an agreement with Lincoln like we do with Thackston ... so it's a different situation."
Holmes goes on to point out that the school district had numerous other issues with Thackston beyond its overdue audits.
"...(W)e wanted to know exactly what the financial circumstances were (of Thackston)," Holmes said to Thackston's attorney. "You didn't do your part. We don't have that information."
Lincoln's board approved audits for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years in April, and the 2014-15 audit contains a partial disclaimer.
Lincoln's and Thackston's administration officials and board members were largely the same during the first few years of Thackston's existence before the auditor general's report suggested the two separate into two entities.
The school district's latest court filing also includes a motion to preclude any testimony or evidence relating to the city's own audits or the auditor general's 2017 audit of the district.
"...(T)hey are irrelevant to the facts of consequence that pertain to the claims and defenses made in this matter," the motion reads.
— Reach David Weissman at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.