State Board, despite misgivings, approves Adams 14’s selected external manager

Putting aside some of its concerns and noting its limited options, the State Board of Education cleared the way Thursday for Adams 14 to work with a for-profit consulting company to turn around the troubled school district.

In a 6 to 1 vote, the State Board approved Florida-based MGT Consulting as the district’s external manager.

The State Board had ordered Adams 14 to hire an external manager to run much of the district for the next four years. The law compelled the state to take action after the district had received the state’s lowest ratings for student achievement for more than eight years in a row.

That order, the first of its kind in the state, allowed the local school board to select who to hire, but also set deadlines and consequences. Some of the deadlines have already been pushed back multiple times as the process has hit roadblocks.

For instance, the district solicited proposals then presented its neighbor, Mapleton Public Schools, as the preferred external manager. The State Board then asked both districts to work together to strengthen their proposal, but later declined to support the arrangement and said no school district should manage another.

At the same time, some State Board members said they had early concerns about MGT, the proposal that had been ranked second by community reviewers. State Board members wanted a group that has already successfully completed a district turnaround. MGT is currently managing a full district in Indiana, but is only in the second year. The Adams 14 school board backed the firm anyway and asked it to work with another company, Schools Cubed, as a way to strengthen its plan.

Just before Thursday’s vote, State Board Chairwoman Angelika Schroeder said she was disappointed with how things worked out, but said she had to respect the local board’s ability to choose who it would hire.

“I definitely have some misgivings,” Schroeder said. “I don’t believe we have another choice.”

But she said she would like to see an external manager have more experience.

“I don’t think you know how hard it’s going to be,” Schroeder said to MGT officials. “Some of your colleagues do.”

State Board member Rebecca McClellan cast the only vote against MGT.

“I’m not convinced the contractor has all the capacity to manage the 25 to 30 people they’re bringing to Colorado,” McClellan said, noting that MGT’s listed local office in Centennial is actually a mailbox.

McClellan also pushed to get answers about the potential cost of the contract.

MGT officials revealed that their proposal could cost $8.4 million over the four years. Now that the State Board has approved the district’s selection of MGT, Adams 14 has 30 days to draft and sign a contract that specifies MGT’s work in more detail. As part of the contract, the district will begin negotiations about the cost, which the district excluded in selecting the manager.

McClellan said she felt as if the contract had an unlimited budget. Other State Board members noted that the cost, while high, is necessary, and may not come to more than $300 per student per year.

“If it works the way it should relative to student improvement, it will be the best money the district has spent,” said State Board member Steve Durham.

The State Board recently also approved MGT to do turnaround work with schools in Aurora and in Pueblo. Those projects also did not set a cost prior to the State Board’s vote.

Other state questions centered on details of the work MGT plans to do, how to communicate its progress, and how it plans to interact with the district’s school board, especially given that four of the five members on the board may be new come November.

District and MGT officials tried to reassure the State Board that the two sides are working well together.

“Authority will not be an issue in this partnership,” said Jonathan Fero, the district’s attorney.

MGT’s officials said they see positive signs that the district is willing to give the company input into major decisions. For instance, the district has put off some actions, including whether to replace the superintendent, whom the board ousted last month.

Yvonne Bradford, a director of the teachers union, including for Adams 14, said teachers will work with MGT.

“We’re going to roll up our sleeves,” Bradford said. “It’s what we’ve been doing. Our focus remains the same.”

The final deadline for the external manager to sign its contract and start working is July 1. Officials have said they may try to get to work sooner.

In ordering the district to hire an external manager, the State Board had spared the community from more drastic possible actions, such as school closure or dissolving the district. But at any point, state officials can take more action if they see that the State Board’s order isn’t being followed.

The State Board also voted Thursday to delay any action on the district’s Central Elementary School, which has persistently failed to improve, thus triggering state action of its own. The State Board voted to allow the district’s external manager to propose a plan to improve the school later this year.