BROOKSVILLE — After a withdrawn application two years ago and a denial by the Hernando County School Board last year, a group angling to open an academically rigorous charter school again hit a wall Tuesday night when it tried to convince the board of the school's merit.
School Board members found flaws and inconsistencies in the new proposal for Chehuntamo Advanced Performance High School. They also remained skeptical of the county's need for the school, which would be built around advanced-placement classes. They denied the application with a unanimous vote.
Earlier in the day, Michael Maynard, chairman of the board of the directors for the proposed school, presented his plan to the School Board. Board member Linda Prescott was the first to put the heat on Maynard in the questions that followed, as she pointed out a slew of typos and grammatical errors in the proposal — a concern she raised two years ago. She also noted that the Miccosukee word "chehuntamo" does not mean "a place for learning," as Maynard has asserted, but is rather a friendly greeting like "hello."
"The devil may be in the details," Maynard said, "but God's in the big picture. And this is about the big picture."
"It's been two years," Prescott responded. "If you’re so busy that you can’t proofread a document that’s an important document, how are you going to have the time to address these students and give them what you’re promising?"
The board had other questions that Maynard deflected or couldn't answer.
When the board's non-voting student representative, Ryan Bradley, asked what the school would offer to set it apart from the advanced programs already present in every district high school, Maynard said he'd "politely decline to answer your question."
Board member Kay Hatch pressed on the same issue moments later, with Maynard responding that he'd rather have that discussion one-on-one.
The board also expressed financial concerns, including a budget that left little leeway for unexpected needs or additional exceptional student education, as well as $95,000 budgeted for paying officers, directors or trustees that Maynard couldn't explain.
"My frustration level is high," he said near the end of the meeting. "We've answered a lot of questions here."
Maynard took more direct aim at the School Board's decision in an email Wednesday afternoon.
"It is obvious the School Board has no respect for the professional evaluation and positive recommendation of their Staff and made a highly personal and political decision," he wrote. "We will see how that plays out for them in the next election."
The district's charter school committee did recommend, 12-3, in favor of the proposal, as Maynard suggested. But Angela Kennedy, the district's supervisor of school choice, emphasized that the committee only graded the proposal as written based on state criteria and could not consider any other factors.
It graded the proposal as meeting state standards in 11 sections and partially meeting them in eight others. The School Board is not required to agree with the recommendations of committees.
Speaking before the vote Tuesday night, board chairwoman Susan Duval alluded to financial worries, as well as the checkered pasts of many of the proposed school's board members.
Maynard, a former English teacher, was forced out of Pasco County schools due to mounting complaints that he ridiculed students. Former School Board member John Sweeney and former superintendent Wayne Alexander, both board members for the proposed school, met controversy during their stints in the Hernando County School District. And Maria Swanson, who would have been the school's expected principal, abruptly left a job in 2015 while she was investigated for an alleged affair with an assistant principal.
"My concerns are such that the general leadership qualifications for this proposed school are less than what this board should be looking for," Duval said. "The management skills are not supported by facts, and personal character traits are susceptible to question.”
Other board members said they were dismayed by Maynard's inability to answer their questions.
“I asked a lot of questions today, and I didn’t always get the answers that I hoped for," Prescott said. "And I have to agree with the applicant: The devil truly is in the details.”
Contact Jack Evans at [email protected] Follow @JackHEvans.