Proposed Hernando County charter school applies again after last year's denial amid controversy

The group behind Chehuntamo Advanced Performance High School believes this year's application will be hard to find fault with.
Michael Maynard at his home in Spring Hill.  (Times file
Michael Maynard at his home in Spring Hill. (Times file
Published Feb. 5, 2019

BROOKSVILLE — Less than a year after the Hernando County School Board denied its application to open a charter school, a controversial group is back with another proposal.

"We feel that we bring something unique to the district," said Michael Maynard, chair of the board of directors for the group behind the proposed Chehuntamo Advanced Performance High School. "There's not a time I felt like quitting. ... We'll just keep coming back until the board says yes."

This is the group's third straight application and the district's only one for the 2019 cycle, according to Angela Kennedy, the school district's supervisor of school choice. According to the application, the school wants to open in August 2020.

Maynard said the group shored up its application with help from an outside consultant. He's confident that if the School Board denies the application, the school will have "firm footing" to appeal the decision for a state Department of Education review.

Kennedy said she's requested time at the April 23 School Board workshop for Maynard to present and board members to ask questions, with a final vote to follow at that evening's meeting.

According to the application, the Chehuntamo school would provide a "rigorous scholastic environment" for students who plan to go on to a four-year college or university, one that would teach them "how to think — not what to think." The application includes criticism of local public schools' enrollment levels and performance in Advanced Placement classes, which the school would focus on, and of the school district's ability to serve "the average student."

Last year, Maynard's comments about the district were a major point of contention for the School Board, with then-board member Beth Narverud calling them "degrading." The district's charter school committee had already recommended 14-1 against approving the application, which the committee said failed to meet the district's standards in several categories used to evaluate proposed charter schools and was riddled with mathematical and typographical errors.

The group withdrew its 2017 application amid criticism that it was unprepared and suggested illegal measures such as charging a $100 application fee and dismissing poorly performing students.

The board of directors behind this year's proposal includes several educators with careers marked by both success and controversy. Maynard, a former Pasco County AP teacher, won commendations for his high-impact teaching, but some students complained about his behavior in class and said he mocked or verbally attacked them. He spent seven years at River Ridge High School before the superintendent transferred him out and eventually retired just before the School Board planned to vote on his firing.

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John Sweeney, the proposed vice chair of the school, is a former Hernando County School Board member who lost a re-election bid after an investigation showed he tried to get his academically struggling son's grades boosted. The school's proposed treasurer, Wayne Alexander, brought the school district to an A grade as superintendent but was pushed out of his contract in 2009 when School Board members learned he'd secretly applied for other jobs.

Maynard said the board of directors sees former River Ridge principal Maria Swanson as the leading candidate for principal. Swanson was credited with reinvigorating River Ridge's academic performance from 2009 to 2015, but she resigned amid a district investigation into an alleged affair with an assistant principal.

Maynard said he doesn't consider his background and those of the other educators to carry any real baggage.

"If you're concerned about educating students, that's not going to be any issue whatsoever," he said. "If your primary concern is going to be about pushing a political agenda, it's going to be something else."

The board of directors is in the process of adding two members, Maynard said: Debbie Salvesen, president of the Hernando County Democratic Club who ran last year for county commissioner; and Joe Santarelli, a pastor who ran last year for a School Board seat.

School Board chair Susan Duval said she wasn't prepared to comment on this year's Chehuntamo application.

Hernando County has two charter schools — Gulf Coast Academy and Brooksville Engineering, Science and Technology Academy — with 343 students enrolled between them. The latter opened most recently, in the 2013-14 school year.

Contact Jack Evans at Follow @JackHEvans.