With the Adams 14 district failing to meet state academic expectations for eight years, Colorado education officials plan to send in an outside manager — but they don’t trust the district to agreeably cede its authority.
So before it steps in, the board late Wednesday moved to specify what powers it can force the district to give up.
State Board of Education members asked for an opinion from the Attorney General’s office.
The State Board met Wednesday to consider ordering drastic actions for the lowest performing school district in the state, in order to improve the education of the approximately 7,500 Adams 14 students. The state board was expected to vote Thursday, but may now delay its final order until getting legal advice on what it can request from the district.
State board member Joyce Rankin said the board must provide a clear and explicit explanation of its expectations, “because I thought we had this a year ago and apparently we did not.”
Leaders of Adams 14, based in Commerce City, presented their proposal to cede some of their authority, by hiring two outside groups — one to manage the district and one to manage the high school — but maintaining the local school board.
A state review panel that visited Adams 14 cited ineffective district leadership and recommended turning it over to an external manager.
Members of the State Board of Education had several critical questions for district leaders, especially around how much authority the district is willing to give up.
Superintendent Javier Abrego told the state board members that the external manager would not have control over hiring or firing staff.
Board member Steve Durham said that he sensed that both the Adams 14 school board and administration were unwilling to give up significant authority.
Durham earlier had pushed district leaders, including board President Connie Quintana, about whether they would voluntarily give up the right to approve every change an external manager might want to make.
Quintana said she would consider every one of the manager’s recommendation.
“They’re going to tell me what to do so I’m going to adhere to their directives,” Abrego tried to reassure Durham.
“Unless the board tells you to do something else,” Durham said. “It’s difficult to serve more than one master.”
When asked specifically about staffing, Quintana said she was not willing to give up that authority, and then when pushed further, said she would have to discuss it with the rest of the board and the district’s attorney.
State board members also said they had concerns that the district’s proposal sounds similar to its proposal last year, which hasn’t resulted in much progress.
Colorado law dictates that when a school or district has received one of the state’s two lowest ratings for more than five years in a row, the state must step in. Under the law passed earlier this decade, last year was the first year schools or districts could reach that five-year mark.
Those that did, including Adams 14, crafted plans with state officials to make changes and set goals for improvement.
Some low-performers have since improved, and a few others have more time to show progress. But state officials set a deadline of this fall for Adams 14 to earn higher ratings. The district failed to meet that goal.
Many of the changes the state board can order, such as merging districts, have never been tried in Colorado. But even so, Durham proposed that the state spell out what will happen if Adams 14 fails to give up full management authority. In that case, he proposed, the state’s order should state that the district could lose accreditation and the district would have to start procedures to dissolve.
State board President Angelika Schroeder agreed Wednesday that that may be appropriate language.
The hearing was packed, with several people set up to watch the meeting from the building’s lobby. Among those who traveled to Denver for the hearing were teachers, parents, advocates, and the district’s entire five-member school board.
A couple of community members were disappointed they were not allowed to give public comment Wednesday. A nearly monthlong process for written community input closed on Monday.
State board members rejected the criticism that they had not sought out community input, referencing multiple times the “mountains” of written comments that have been submitted for them to review. Much of the public comment submitted to the state board came from teachers union leaders from across the state asking for the state board to avoid turning any of their schools over to charter control.