Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Application for proposed Hernando County charter school withdrawn following criticism from School Board

BROOKSVILLE — Following three hours of tough questions from the Hernando County School Board Tuesday, those behind a proposed charter school for the "academically advanced" have withdrawn their application.

According to School Board attorney Dennis Alfonso, the Chehuntamo Advanced Performance High School team pulled out "based on some of the comments" board members voiced about their proposal at a 1 p.m. workshop.

Less than three hours after the workshop ended, and before board could vote on the school's approval at a 6 p.m. meeting, the application had been rescinded.

Alfonso said it is possible the group will reapply to open in 2019, but the Tampa Bay Times has not yet confirmed the the team's intentions.

Although the district team that reviewed the Chehuntamo application recommended its approval to School Board at the workshop, board members were weary about the school.

They threw non-stop questions at the applicants (a group of past area educators with checkered pasts) and most were were dodged or redirected by Chehuntamo Chairman Michael Maynard. For some questions, he didn't have an answer, and resorted time and time again to boasting his past successes as an Advanced Placement teacher in Pasco County.

On more than one occasion, Maynard turned to Chehuntamo attorney Drew Vermette — who at one point called board member Mark Johnson's question  a "waste of time"— to answer for him.

Among the things Maynard and his team were unsure of:

• whether the school would have a school resource office or any form of law enforcement presence

• whether the school would have a nurse or clinic of any kind

• how many hours teachers would work or what kind of benefit package they would have

• how much Springboard, the proposed curriculum for Chehuntamo, would cost

• whether the school would use the district's lunch and transportation services

At the start of the meeting, Maynard called Hernando AP students "largely underserved" and claimed that "AP is not largely pushed" in the district. When asked for clarification and evidence, Maynard said he didn't have "exact numbers" but had talked to students and teachers who told him that is the case.

Maynard, who claims the Chehuntamo would offer primarily AP courses and lead to an AP international diploma, also could not tell the board what the requirements are for an AP international diploma.

Board member Susan Duval expressed several concerns about Chehuntamo, particularly in regards to the proposed budget for the school. It did not include the cost of AP exams, which would total $20,000 if the school was to reach the team's projected enrollment of 125.

In the paperwork submitted to the district, Maynard said the school would charge a $100 application fee. At the meeting, Alfonso, the School Board's attorney, explained that such a charge is illegal, according to Florida Statute.

In both the application and at the meeting, Maynard suggested the school would "dismiss" struggling students or place them on some sort of probation. Both of which are also illegal under state law.

You have a former superintendent, a former school board member and a former principal (on your team)… I don’t understand why no one knew that was illegal,” said Johnson, who started the meeting by saying he was “appalled at the lack of preparedness” of the Chehuntamo team during a recorded meeting with the district supervisors and directors in September.

After hearing that the application was withdrawn, Board Chair Beth Narverud told the Times that she believes the board is open to Chehuntamo, as it would be any proposed charter school, but needs to see that the team has "everything in a row and knows what they are doing" to support it.

"This isn't just a business; it's about our kids," she said. "It's not that we don't want it, we just want to make sure it is going to succeed."

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