At the April 23rd meeting of the Hernando County School Board, the proposed Chehuntamo Advanced Performance High School was rejected unanimously in a 5-0 vote. The most telling exchange at the afternoon workshop came when Ryan Bradley, the student representative, asked what value the charter school offered students that the existing programs at public high schools did not. The petitioner, even when given a second opportunity to do so, could not provide an answer.
It was part of a pattern. Question after question revealed a lack of clarity, thoroughness, and preparation by the school’s backers, who at times grew hostile in response to Board members’ questioning. Perhaps most alarming was the $95,000 allocated for “officers, directors, and trustees”. When pressed, the school’s chairperson, who had signed off on the document, could provide no explanation for the allocation – he simply blamed the accountant.
The contentious proceedings provided insight into why an average of 20 charter schools in the state of Florida shutter their doors each year – many without ever opening. The financial health of the school depended on highly unrealistic projections of student performance to bring in additional funding, with the petitioners anticipating a 90% pass rate for freshmen taking Advanced Placement exams. National pass rates vary by test but, generally, hover around 50% for the courses proposed for freshman. The applicants also projected that, by the school’s fourth year, it would accept 88 students in the Exceptional Student Education (ESE) program – but only employ 2 ESE teachers. Busing? There would be none. Meals? Only vague assurances of a deal with unspecified “vendors”, and no plans for breakfast. ESE services? The buildings would be one-floor.
Once approved, there are few options for conducting oversight or correcting the course of a floundering charter school. Meanwhile, by not providing busing or breakfast, the school can select out certain families who rely on those services. Under the guise of “rigor”, it can further select students whose parents have the time and resources to help build their children’s “portfolios”. By providing meager services for ESE students, it can keep those students from enrolling.
To a less-discerning School Board – and, apparently, to the petitioners – these details would seem minor next to the siren’s song of “school choice”. Fortunately, the members of the Hernando County School Board take their jobs more seriously. The professionalism they displayed is a model of how local government can and should work. In rejecting the Chehuntamo application, they have upheld the public trust, and proven that dedicated public servants who serve their constituents first and foremost are perhaps not as rare as they seem.
Hernando County Progressive Caucus