BROOKSVILLE — Following an afternoon of tough questions and criticism from the Hernando County School Board on Tuesday, those behind a proposed charter school for the "academically advanced" have withdrawn their application.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 an afternoon workshop. Less than three hours after it ended, and before the board could vote on the school's application at its evening meeting, the proposal had been rescinded.
Michael Maynard, the chairman of Chehuntamo, told the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday that after hearing the board's concerns, he decided that going back to the drawing board was his best option.
"We want to make sure the application is absolutely right, and this will give us the opportunity to do that," Maynard said. "As a longtime educator, I know that there are always hoops, and I am willing to jump through those hoops, so we pulled the application."
He said the team "absolutely" plans to reapply by February, which would make Chehuntamo eligible to open in August 2019.
For nearly three hours at the workshop, board members thew non-stop questions at Maynard and his team, which includes four other past educators, some of whom left their previous posts under clouds of controversy.
Most of the questions were dodged or redirected by Maynard, and for questions he didn't seem to have an answer to, he resorted to boasting about his past successes as an Advanced Placement teacher in Pasco County. Often, he turned to Chehutamo attorney Drew Vermette, who at one point said* "it seems like we are just wasting time," following a question asked by School Board member Mark Johnson.
Board members pointed out that statements made by both men repeatedly conflicted with information found in the application that was submitted to the district in August, and they voiced concerns about whether the group was ready to open a school.
"I was just appalled at the lack of preparedness," board member Mark Johnson said, also criticizing the group's proposal to charge Chehuntamo applicants a $100 fee, which is illegal under Florida law.
Maynard also indicated — both in the application paperwork and at the workshop — that the school would "dismiss" or place on probation struggling students. Both are 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," Johnson said.
Maynard told the Times that both issues already had been resolved behind closed doors with the district team that reviewed the application and recommended its approval. He said his team was blindsided on Tuesday.
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"We weren't expecting any of the questions they raised to us, or for them to say we weren't prepared when the district team seemed fine with our application," he said. "It felt like a gotcha moment."
According to Angela Kennedy, the district's supervisor of school choice, all but one member of the 13-person review team voted to recommend Chehuntamo's approval to the School Board. Of 19 sections used to evaluate the school's application, eight were rated as "meets the standard" and 11 as "partially meets the standard." None did not meet the standard.
Still, board member Susan Duval pointed out many holes in the application, particularly in the budget section. It did not include the cost of many things, including AP testing materials, which would total $20,000 if the school were to reach the team's projected first-year enrollment of 125, and the cost of SpringBoard, the school's proposed curriculum.
When board member Linda Prescott asked Maynard to list the requirements of the AP international diploma, which he says would be awarded to Chehuntamo students, he couldn't.
"See, Mr. Maynard, this is what gives me concerns," Prescott said before throwing her hands up and shaking her head. "Here you are coming to us to introduce a charter school (where) you're going to be awarding AP international diplomas, and you do not know the qualifications that students must pass to get that diploma."
Maynard was also unable to tell the School Board whether Chehuntamo, which would be built near the Hernando-Pasco county line, would have a school nurse or school resource officer. He couldn't say how many hours teachers would work a week, or what kind of benefit package they would receive, and the team still had not decided whether they would use the district's lunch and transportation services.
Board Chairwoman Beth Narverud was largely silent during the workshop, other than serving as a referee when the conversation got heated.
After hearing that the application had been withdrawn, she told the Times that the board is open to Chehuntamo, as it would be to any proposed charter school, but needs to see that the team has "everything in a row and knows what they are doing."
"This isn't just a business; it's about our kids," Narverud said. "It's not that we don't want it; we just have to make sure it is going to succeed."
Maynard on Wednesday said he hopes the board can see through the discord to his good intentions.
"We aren't bad people. ... We are educators who have done a lot of good for kids, and we just want to keep doing that," he said. "We have lost some, sure, but we want to win this one for the kids."
Contact Megan Reeves at email@example.com. Follow @mareevs.
* Editor's note: This story has been edited to correct the quote from attorney Drew Vermette.