EDITORIAL: Don't turn Lincoln Charter into another Thackston
Lincoln Charter School has been part of York City's community for a long time.
The York City School District built Lincoln Elementary School in 1999, and it was converted to a charter school in 2000. It remains the only public school in the state that was converted to a charter, and the school district still owns the building at 559 W. King St.
It was the district's first charter school, long before the charter school boom began. It's become a cornerstone of the community, with students riding bikes or walking to school on certain days, creating a community garden and holding events to get more people involved with the school.
With all this history, the administration really should know how the relationship with the school district works. But apparently they need a refresher course on that.
Lincoln's audits for 2014-15 and 2015-16 were late — the charter's board approved them last April.
Both audits had findings of fault, but the 2014-15 audit also had a disclaimer that there was insufficient information to form an opinion because there was no year-end balance for 2014.
Lincoln Principal and CEO Leonard Hart told the York City school board that when the current administration took over in the 2015-16 school year, the charter's previous board had already departed, the firm that had begun the 2013-14 audit had disbanded, and a new firm would not form an opinion on work it did not do.
Without an ending balance for 2013-14 — which still remains incomplete, in draft form — charter officials could not start the 2014-15 audit, which also put them behind on audits for the following years.
The 2014-15 audit finding also cited a failure by the school’s management to submit a budget to the state that year; missing federal background clearance and statement of financial interest forms; and lack of documentation for reimbursement for the school’s National School Lunch Program meals.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Helen Thackston Charter School had the same problems. In October 2017, the Thackston administration and the York City School District agreed that the charter school would close in June 2018 if it didn't turn in completed audits for 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16 by Jan. 31, 2018.
On Jan. 31, Thackston submitted those audits, each with this disclaimer from the auditors:
“(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."
Last spring, a judge ruled that those incomplete audits weren't enough, and the school closed its doors in June.
The Lincoln Charter administration says it is getting things in order after a change in management. Background checks and financial interest continued to be issues in the audit for 2015-16, but the other issues have been resolved.
School district attorney Allison Peterson, of Levin Legal Group, said the charter's 2016-17 audit was completed on Sept. 25, and the 2017-18 audit is on track to meet the state deadline of Dec. 31.
"We promise you that we’re gonna do the right thing, no matter who sits in the chair," Hart said to the district board. "Under this administration, it won’t happen again."
We hope he's right. The district will vote on an agreement with Lincoln in January to address the past audits and approve the school's charter for another five years.
As York City school board member Tonya Thompson-Morgan said, Lincoln has strong engagement from teachers, staff and administration and parent involvement.
We hope the administration can pull everything together to keep this community asset on track.