Education

Questions mount on third day of Lincoln charter school hearings

A judge will consider thousands of documents and hours of testimony in the review of Lincoln Memorial Academy’s charter termination, but after several days of hearings, some details remain a mystery.

Officials from Lincoln and the School District of Manatee County assembled in front of Robert Cohen, chief judge for the Division of Administrative Hearings, on Wednesday morning — the third day of hearings. The Palmetto-based charter school is appealing a July 23 decision by the school board, which raised concerns about finances and leadership before assuming control of Lincoln.

Wednesday’s hearing started with testimony from DeAnna King, the person responsible for payroll, background checks and other services at Lincoln. She contracted with Eddie Hundley, the school’s principal and chief executive officer, and someone she lived with for the last six months, according to depositions.

The school district’s attorney, Erin Jackson, asked King where she stored employees’ pay stubs. In response, King said she stored a host of Lincoln documents on a USB storage device, which malfunctioned on July 25, the same day auditors arrived to preserve documents.

“I put my thumb drive in and it would not give me the information that I was looking for,” she said on Wednesday. “It would not pull up the files.”

It appears King had no backup copies of the USB drive, and it’s unclear whether any information was lost. King previously said that, “to the best of her knowledge,” auditors were able to pull everything from the device, according to her deposition.

King said she transferred other documents to the Office of Inspector General, within the U.S. Department of Education, which is investigating Lincoln for “potential violations of federal law.” Some documents are now under the school district’s control, she continued.

On Tuesday, the judge began to question Lincoln’s representative, Christopher Norwood, about the location of certain evidence, especially documents that would back recent testimony. The judge’s comments followed a statement by the district’s attorney, who referenced a missing box of documents, a box that was referenced by several people in depositions.

“Testimony by itself without any record is not going to do it,” the judge said on Tuesday. “I mean, there has to be something to corroborate the testimony.”

Several documents and electronic devices were requested in the discovery phase, in preparation of the hearings, and some were still missing by the time proceedings began. On Monday, the district’s attorney questioned Hundley about his electronics.

Jackson said she was never informed about a Surface Pro tablet during Hundley’s depositions, but the device was later discovered, and though he provided the tablet to auditors, Hundley said he forgot the username and password.

“Unfortunately, because of that, we’re having difficulty getting into the device at all,” Jackson said.

In both of their depositions, Hundley and Cornelle Maxfield, the school’s former chief financial officer, have cited lost passwords when asked about their online accounts, such as Dropbox and Gmail.

Under the pressure of a federal investigation, Hundley and Maxfield also cited the Fifth Amendment a total of 177 times in their depositions, according to Jackson. The ongoing investigation and limited depositions have put a strain on recent testimony.

“We can’t get into that because Mr. Hundley has pled the Fifth Amendment every time something was asked about those large cost categories,” the judge cautioned Wednesday afternoon, as Hundley tried to explain recent events.

The hearing will conclude on Thursday at the Manatee County Judicial Center, and Judge Cohen will have several weeks to decide whether violations took place during the school’s charter termination.

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