Teachers union challenges improvement plan for Pueblo school, calling it bid to ‘privatize’

Colorado’s largest teachers union filed a legal challenge Friday seeking to halt plans to turn over management of a struggling Pueblo school to a for-profit firm and a university partner.

The Colorado Education Association’s complaint against the State Board of Education and Pueblo City Schools could be the first volley in an extended court fight. The same private firm set to work in Pueblo, Florida-based MGT Consulting, is in line to play a similar role in improvement efforts for the Adams 14 school district and an Aurora school.

The State Board on April 10 approved plans to install MGT and the University of Virginia Darden/Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education as external managers of the Risley International Academy of Innovation in the southern Colorado city of Pueblo.

“The state has overstepped boundaries with a public school takeover that usurps the will of the Pueblo community,” CEA President Amie Baca-Oehlert said in a statement announcing the complaint and request to put the management plan on hold filed in Pueblo District Court. “Power is taken away from the people when schools and districts are handed over to private companies without any connection to the community or responsibility to the taxpayers.”

MGT started in Florida in 1974. The company has consulted for local governments, school districts, and universities, including many in Colorado. MGT often hires retired educators like superintendents to help run its day-to-day work. Its work in Gary, Indiana, has proven divisive.

The university program has a considerable track record, and more evidence of success. The program trains principals and district leaders to become better managers and to assess what works and what doesn’t. Both the Adams 14 and Pueblo plans include the university partner.

This week, the State Board voted 6-1 to approve MGT as external manager of the Commerce City-based Adams 14 school district for the next four years, despite some misgivings about its scant record managing entire districts. The State Board previously signed off on a plan for the firm to help lead improvement efforts at North Middle School in Aurora.

A Colorado Department of Education spokesperson said Friday state officials had yet to see the union’s complaint against the Pueblo plan. Here’s a link to 168-page complaint, along with the union’s motion for a preliminary injunction.