Adams 14 schools won’t have a superintendent as private company takes over operations

As a private, for-profit firm starts managing Adams 14, the school district is likely to be without a superintendent for some time.

The Adams 14 school board removed Javier Abrego from daily duties as superintendent in April, but allowed him to finish out his contract, which expires at the end of June.

The board has not named an interim superintendent or started a superintendent search process.

Abrego’s removal came as the Adams 14 board, under an order from the State Board of Education, was in the process of choosing an external manager to take over most operations for the long-struggling district. Adams 14 recently finalized a four-year $8.3 million contract with MGT, a Florida-based education consulting firm.

“We don’t need a superintendent right now,” said board member David Rolla. “Realistically, MGT is our superintendent right now.”

Much of the scope of MGT’s work was dictated by the State Board of Education when they ordered the district to hand over management of the district to an outside group. That order is currently being challenged in a lawsuit by the teachers union, but MGT’s work is moving forward for now.

“The duties largely if not completely overlap with the duties of a superintendent,” said board member Dominick Moreno. “But we’ll be working with MGT on how long we’ll go without a superintendent.”

The management plan from MGT has been that they would slowly release some responsibilities back to the district over the course of four years, so that the district could be equipped to take back control at the end of the contract. Moreno said more conversations with MGT need to happen to decide when in the process it makes sense to add a superintendent.

In the contract, and per state orders, MGT has a say in such a decision, though company officials said those discussions haven’t happened yet.

Adams 14 board member Harvest Thomas said he believes that ideally the district should have a superintendent, or at least a point person who is more involved in daily operations than the school board, to look out for the district’s interests. Since Abrego’s departure, Darci Mohr, the district’s executive director of human resources/legal/risk management, has played this “point person” role.

But, Thomas said, MGT’s role complicates the lines of authority for such a position.

“How would you write a contract for that person?” Thomas asked. “And then how many people would want that position?”

MGT will have authority over any superintendent contract while they manage the district. That means MGT could recommend who should fill that role — and could ask the board to remove a leader whom the company believes isn’t working out.

MGT officials said it was too early to comment on what factors they may consider in choosing a leader for the district or in deciding when the district should hire a superintendent.

For now, the local team MGT has hired includes several experienced Colorado superintendents, including Harry Bull, who led Cherry Creek schools; Don Rangel, who has been superintendent in Weld County; Ron Cabrera, a former superintendent in Boulder; and Cindy Stevenson, a former superintendent of Jeffco Public Schools.

The district will have to pay MGT a base salary of $3.4 million in the first year. Officials received at least one grant of $200,000 per year from the state to help pay for that cost.

Abrego’s annual salary was raised to $177,581 at the time that he was released from his daily contract responsibilities. Not paying that salary also saves the district money that then can go to pay MGT, district board members said.