Court to decide fate of Manatee County charter school

Arguments began Monday in a court battle over the fate the Lincoln Memorial Academy charter school in Manatee County.

The school’s administration has been under scrutiny over its finances and leadership. Now, the court will decide whether the school district was justified in terminating the school’s charter last month.

The attorney for the Manatee County School District told the judge there were numerous issues leading the district to revoke the charter of Lincoln Memorial Academy, from a $700,000 financial shortfall to uncertified teaching staff to being the lowest graded school in the county.

Last May, the school’s principal, Eddie Hundley lost his teaching license after he recommended a teacher for another job despite that teacher being investigated for a sex crime. Instead of leaving though, Hundley changed his title from principal to founder and CEO and stayed at the school.

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The school district said that’s when financial issues became apparent. School district attorney Erin Jackson detailed the debt Monday.

“LMA personnel had often been paid late or not paid at all. In fact, based on the calculations, they owe employees in excess of $250,000,” Jackson explained.

The school district asked for financial records in order to create a plan for recovery but the district says school administrators ignored multiple requests for documents.

“In fact, Ms. Maxfield, the CFO and public records custodian for the school, has actively attempted to delete over 390 documents from LMA’s Google documents account since July 25, the day the district went to the school in an attempt to preserve the financial records,” Jackson said.

Hundley’s counsel, Christopher Norwood said the school’s financial woes were a result of mismanagement by the county.

“This school district denied them, for a period of time, their own Title 1 money. They projected it at one number during the summer and made it 40% of that in December. That financial strain on this school was stupendous,” Norwood said.

Hundley has plenty of support within the school.

Last week, 40 students walked out of classes at LMA, demanding Hundley be allowed to return. Monday morning, several smaller protests broke out.

Several community members came to Monday's hearing in support of Hundley and the school. 

“This school has meant so much to this community as it relates to the kids when it comes to their reading and math scores,” Huggins said. “It’s just different for this community, having this school here.”

Huggins said the matter of teachers not being paid was only brought up after the school was closed. 

“There’s not a teacher that would admit they went without a paycheck," Huggins said. "I haven’t heard anyone complain that they went without a paycheck.”