By JULIE B. MAGLIO
Chehuntamo Charter School application was the topic of discussion for nearly three and a half hours at the school board workshop on April 23, 2019. A charter application for Chehuntamo was submitted to the school district for the third time on Feb. 1, 2019. The application first came to the school district in Feb. 2018, but the application was withdrawn after rigorous scrutiny by the board during a workshop. The application was re-submitted and came back before the board April 24, 2018 and was denied unanimously by the school board. The outcome was not much different this time around, with the board again voting unanimously for denial during the April 23, 2019 school board meeting.
At the workshop earlier that day, Angela Kennedy, the district's Supervisor of School Choice, explained that a committee of 16 experts was established to review the application. The committee assembled questions which were then sent to the applicant one week prior to a March 8, 2019 district interview with members of the Chehuntamo Board.
Kennedy said that in the application, 11 sections were rated as meets the standard, 8 rated as partially meets the standard and none were rated does not meet the standard. There is no set number of sections that must be rated as meets the standard to qualify for approval. Nor is there a set number of 'does not meet standard' to recommend denial.
Fifteen voting committee members were asked to recommend approval or denial to the school board. By a vote of 12-3, the committee recommended approval "based solely on the application as written" and evaluated per statutes. Kennedy remarked that the recommendation of the committee does not have to be the final vote of the board.
One of the biggest challenges the Chehuntamo application has is its leadership according to school board chair Susan Duval.
The organizer of the Charter School is Michael Maynard, an award-winning Pasco County high school Language Arts teacher who was placed on a 3-day suspension and faced a mandatory transfer in 2016 due to abrasive actions in the classroom. He was reported to have used profanity in the classroom and to have directed various insults toward his students. Although his classroom interaction with students came into question, Maynard's teaching track record includes being the highest scoring AP English Language teacher in Pasco County 16 years in a row
Despite the previous denial of the Charter application, Maynard managed to bring together additional community members for the charter school's board.
"Everyone on my board is a creator and an innovator," said Maynard. He lists the charter's board as follows:
- John Sweeney- MA, former HCSB member- managed campaign to change the state school funding formula for Hernando County, resulting in millions of dollars in additional school funding
- Dr. Wayne Alexander- PhD- Former HCSD Superintendent and only Superintendent to get a district grade of 'A' from FLDOE
- Michael Maynard, MPA- Recognized by FDLOE as one of highest performing teachers in Florida, highest scoring AP English Language teacher in Pasco County 16 years in a row.
- Joe Santerelli, MA - Pastor of Hillside Baptist Church
- Debbie Salvesen- President of Hernando County Democratic Club
- John Price- US Navy Submarine Service, retail business owner
- Dr. Doc Thayer, PhD- Owns and operates WZPH 96.7, retired high school math teacher
Chehuntamo would offer an Advanced Placement International Diploma for their graduates and targets students wishing to pursue a 4 year degree who rank in the 40th to 90th percentile. Maynard said that they would consider all students willing to work hard.
"If you try on an AP class, we will give you every opportunity to succeed in that class," he said.
Classes will be project based so that students learn to work with other students and pull their own weight.
The SpringBoard curriculum would be used for lower grades and freshman would take 1 AP class - Human Geography or Environmental Science.
Maynard said he hopes to draw teacher applicants from connections with the College Board. Maynard is a reader, a table leader and AP advocate for the college board.
Honors and regular courses would be offered in addition to AP and Maynard would stick with
Common Core Standards. "Teachers by and large approve of the Common Core standards - and I do to… I want our kids to be able to move out of state and at least be roughly in line with what's going on in those other states."
The AP International diploma requires a foreign language and Chehuntamo's focus would be on the Spanish language Maynard said.
Maynard spoke of the savings for students who come into college with a 4 or 5 on AP exams as they can bypass first year classes saving thousands of dollars. Passing those exams are also beneficial for the school. For every student that passes an AP test, about $600-$750 goes back into the school through a special AP bonus. This is a key area of revenue Maynard pointed to as his presentation said that 20% of the school's base funding would be derived not from local tax base but from additional AP FTE allocations.
During the comment portion of the workshop, John Emhoff IB/AP Program Coordinator at Springstead High School said that Chehuntamo may be overestimating these AP bonuses. While AP Human Geography has a 54% national average pass rate, Chehuntamo is budgeting on a 90% pass rate they call conservative. Emhoff said, "I would love to have teachers at the ninth grade level who can take 13 and 14 year olds and get a 90% pass rate. It's an incredibly difficult venture to accomplish. This cannot be 'the norm' or a conservative projection. A conservative projection would be meeting national pass rates." He cited figures for a potential shortfall heading into year 2 if pass rates are only around 50%.
Maynard described Chehuntamo's scholastic environment as "focused, diverse and exclusive." He said that he has spoken with leaders in minority communities and will focus on the needs of Hispanic and African American students.
Maynard said Chehuntamo would be constructed on an undisclosed site in Spring Hill within 10 minutes of Springstead.
There would be an initial investment of $2-2.5 million for school infrastructure with additional $12 million over 4 years. A 10,000 square foot steel building with brick portico and facade would be constructed on the initial site followed up by three to four more 10,000 square foot buildings.
Maynard addressed where the construction money would be coming from.
"We have not budgeted anywhere to ask you for your school construction funds… The initial investment is coming from us. Who is going to own the school? Ultimately the school district will own the school and we'll manage the property. We're not hiring an outside management company. It makes sense that you guys would own the school because we are using tax dollars from the state to build the school and construct the buildings. I'll be having to pledge $200,000-$300,000 personally to get the thing off the ground…" He indicated that he would eventually be reimbursed for that initial investment.
"We're all local people trying to do something for this community and for this school district. We want to partner with you guys... We want to help this group of kids and we're going to relieve some pressure on you at the same time," said Maynard.
Maynard remarked that hundreds of kids are being homeschooled, going to schools out of the county or to private schools in the area. "I want to pull those kids back in. That's our tax money, that's our revenue, that's our revenue for the entire district."
Maynard reasoned that because charter schools can be closed for poor performance, taxpayers are better protected. "If we're not successful you can close us."
Gregg Laskoski, the school district's Half Cent Sales Tax Accountability Committee chairman, commented on the recent increase in charter school closings during the comment period of the workshop. Laskoski referred to a statement by Brian Wilcox to the Florida News Service, warning that when a charter closes it is often difficult to get taxpayer funds back.
Some of the special programs Chehuntamo would offer include speech and debate, stringed orchestra, model United Nations and courtroom.
After Maynard's presentation, School Board members questioned Maynard on many aspects of the charter school application.
A majority of the questions came from board members Linda Prescott and Kay Hatch.
Prescott's concerns included the mistaken meaning of the word 'Chehuntamo,' typos on the application and an amount of $95,000 allocated for compensation of officers, directors and trustees during the first year as indicated on an IRS form.
"If you're planning on taking $95,000 out of your budget to pay your board members, that is a big concern for me," said Prescott.
Maynard responded that there is no plan to take out $95,000 from the budget as indicated in the operating budget submitted to the board. He said that the attorney and accountant would be able to explain the $95,000 figure.
In regard to the meaning of the Seminole word 'Chehuntamo,' Prescott said that it does not mean "a place of learning," rather it is a friendly greeting synonymous with "hello." She was disappointed that Maynard had not taken the time to research the meaning of the word.
Prescott provided statistics on the failure of charter schools: 393 charters schools have failed since 1998- an average of 20 per year.
Prescott said that the District's data coordinator Linda Pierce provided her with data on the district's AP passing rate. In 2017 Hernando County ranked no. 8 in the state in terms of their passing rate for AP, while Pasco County rated 14.
"I think you'll have to agree we're doing something right regarding AP in Hernando," she said.
Maynard responded that over the last four or five years, AP participation has been declining in Hernando.
Chehuntamo Board Member Jon Sweeney stated, "Having served on the school board, I highly appreciated the work of the screening committee. Many of them are here right now. They are all experts in their field. We've passed through the screening committee. I would hope that you really consider their recommendations as highly as I once did."
Mr. Sweeney served on the school board 2006-2014.
Laskoski also made comments on Maynard's past behavior in the classroom.
"The school board cannot pretend that the disciplinary actions taken against him in Oct. 2017 were undeserved. We cannot pretend that the misguided behavior that prompted numerous complaints during an 8 year period never occurred. Nor can we pretend that he is not joined by others in exile. From where I stand, this application represents a highly volatile and untenable risk that our district cannot afford."
Paul Douglas President of Hernando's NAACP was in favor of the charter school. "I come to you today to say put this school somewhere in this county. In order to enhance the education of this county you're going to need something like this."
The school board unanimously denied Chehuntamo's charter application ' for good cause.' School Board Attorney Dennis Alfonso will prepare a letter to the Chehuntamo board for the good cause denial with the assistance of the Superintendent and staff.