Two Colorado districts plan to ask state board to up their quality ratings to stave off sanctions

Two low-performing Colorado school districts at different points on a path toward sanctions plan to appeal their state quality ratings to the State Board of Education.

Aurora and Westminster public schools were the only districts that filed the necessary paperwork by Tuesday, the deadline for districts that received one of the state’s two lowest ratings to appeal, a department spokesman said.

Both districts, which received the state’s second-lowest rating, are in Denver’s inner suburbs and serve some of the state’s most at-risk students. Large numbers of students in both districts are poor, Latino, black or learning English as a second language.

The “priority improvement” rating both districts received last month brings them closer to state-ordered steps that could include closing some schools or turning them over to third-party charter school operators. Other options include asking a district to hand over some or all of its operations to a third party.

Officials from Westminster and Aurora did not respond to interview requests. However, Westminster made clear its intentions to appeal earlier.

Westminster’s appeal hearing has been scheduled for March, the education department spokesman said. Aurora’s appeal date has not been set.

If the state board does not grant the appeals, Westminster will face sanctions this year, and Aurora could face sanctions in 2018 if students don’t show enough improvement on next spring’s state exams.

The state board has never granted a district’s request to increase its quality rating. Previously, the Sheridan School District asked in 2014 and Mapleton Public Schools in 2013.

The Westminster school district, which sits in Adams County, would be one of the first districts in the state to face sanctions under the state’s current accountability system. Four other districts also face sanctions this year, and none appealed.