Adams 14 chooses a second group to manage its district, giving Mapleton an ultimatum

The school board of the troubled Adams 14 district has given its would-be outside manager, the Mapleton school district, an ultimatum to agree by next Wednesday to work with a Florida-based company in managing Adams 14 — or else lose the contract.

Mapleton has responded refusing to name a partner, but asking for a meeting to talk it through.

The new request comes after the State Board of Education hesitated two weeks ago to approve Mapleton as the external manager for Adams 14, because the board worried that Mapleton wasn’t up to the task. The state board asked that the two districts work together and encouraged them to identify another group that could strengthen the work.

In a response to Adams 14 sent Tuesday, Mapleton officials said they were surprised and disappointed.

“We submitted our proposal in good faith, expecting that you and your board would at least meet with us to discuss your concerns at a reasonable time and with the willingness to reach agreement on matters within the scope of our proposal,” the letter states.

At the state hearing two weeks ago, Mapleton Superintendent Charlotte Ciancio said she would not amend her proposal. She said that Mapleton would work with another group to help Adams 14, but that such a partner would be determined after  evaluating the needs of Adams 14, and not imposed without community input.

In the competition for outside manager, the group Adams 14 selected to join Mapleton, the MGT Consulting Group, had been a close second choice for both the community and in a split vote by the Adams 14 school board. MGT is based in Florida and has offices in Centennial.

Ciancio said Thursday that the fact that MGT was the partner Adams 14 selected this week to work with Mapleton doesn’t alleviate her concerns.

“This partnership wasn’t vetted,” Ciancio said. “There wasn’t anything at any point that talked about all three of us working together. This wasn’t their proposal. This wasn’t our proposal. We’re just not certain how that would work.”

In Tuesday’s letter, Mapleton officials also got straight to the point about one issue that is causing disagreement between the Adams 14 board and Mapleton: how much authority Adams 14 will give up.

“We would like to discuss your comfort and openness in being more specific in defining the authority that you are willing to delegate to meet both the letter and spirit of the state board’s order,” the letter states.

Ciancio said she feels that although her proposal to manage Adams 14 mentioned “full authority,” the Adams 14 board wasn’t clear on what that would mean.

“I’m not sure they paid attention to that,” Ciancio said. “When we say full authority we were meaning the authority to make the recommendations to the board for personnel and that they then accept and that they don’t intervene.”

She said that in Mapleton, when she makes recommendations to her board about hiring or firing staff, the board may ask questions about her rationale, but not micromanage the decision.

“In past practice in Adams 14, the board has overturned the superintendent’s recommendation and so we are saying we need the authority without them micromanaging those decisions,” Ciancio said.

The resolution passed Monday by the Adams 14 school board gives Mapleton until noon next Wednesday to agree to work with MGT, otherwise, “the board will have to move forward with choosing another lead partner.”

Ciancio said that Mapleton’s Tuesday letter constitutes the district’s response. She said she is waiting to hear from Adams 14 about their willingness to meet.

As of Thursday noon, Adams 14 officials hadn’t publicly revealed their next steps. A spokesman for the district said he didn’t expect Adams 14 to have a response before its Wednesday deadline.

MGT officials said Thursday they have not been in contact with officials from either district, but said they are supportive “of Adams 14 Board’s efforts to ensure the quality of the work delivered to both the students and community, and welcome the opportunity to participate in the solution.”

The MGT proposal for managing Adams 14 would have the group working with the University of Virginia to provide principal and leadership training to district staff. The university program is also mentioned in the Adams 14 resolution from this week.

MGT has managed several schools and also a couple of districts. Most recently, the group managed two school districts in Florida, and last year was named the emergency manager for one school district in Indiana.

Pending approval, MGT could soon be working with three Colorado districts on school turnaround work.

Local school boards have named MGT to help turn around North Middle School in Aurora and help manage two struggling middle schools in Pueblo. The State Board of Education must approve both plans.

Teachers union officials criticized the MGT selection in Pueblo.

“Pueblo educators are taken back by the lack of transparency and community engagement in the board’s process to select MGT. We fail to see the logic in entrusting our students’ future to this national, for-profit company when the community favors bringing on board a company that will consider complementary solutions to efforts already underway, such as the Community Schools work happening at Risley,” said Suzanne Ethredge, president of the Pueblo Education Association in a prepared statement.

Besides doing school turnaround work, the group has a history going back to the ‘90s working with Colorado districts on other projects. Earlier this school year, MGT worked with the Aurora school district on its “Blueprint” process to identify various visions for the district’s facilities. MGT’s application also stated it is working now with Jeffco Public Schools on a school policy review.

Read the full Adams 14 resolution and the Mapleton response, below.