The State Board of Education on Thursday delayed approving the selection of the Mapleton school district to help run its troubled neighbor Adams 14 in part because of a possible division between the districts.
The Colorado board didn’t reject Mapleton’s involvement, but instead voted 6-1 to direct officials of the neighboring districts to talk to each other and to discuss organizations that might assist their work.
The State Board in November ordered Adams 14 to be the first in the state to hire an outside manager to run most of its operations, after the district for years failed to improve low student achievement.
Several State Board members raised concerns about Mapleton’s ability to benefit Adams 14, but conceded that Mapleton’s advantage is that it has large community support. State Board members, like the Adams 14 board had last month, differed on how much to weigh the community’s support.
State Board members may want another expert to help the partnership. But Mapleton Superintendent Charlotte Ciancio told the state officials after the vote that she would not amend or resubmit Mapleton’s proposal to manage Adams 14 citing that the existing proposal was the one approved by the community.
“Adams 14 will have to decide if that’s what they want,” Ciancio said. This left some uncertainty about what happens next.
Departing from precise time frames set around a sense of urgency for starting the work to improve Adams 14, State Board members deferred approval of an external manager until a “future meeting” which was not specified.
State Board members pointed out that the Adams 14 board approved Mapleton as its manager on a narrow 3-2 vote, and given a recent board member resignation, the remaining four Adams 14 board members are evenly divided on their support for Mapleton.
Adams 14’s attorney Jonathan Fero mentioned that one sticking point is about how much authority the district will have to give up to an external manager.
Ciancio said Mapleton’s proposal calls for a five-year contract that would start off requesting “full authority,” but gradually releasing it over time.
Adams 14 board President Connie Quintana said she was not willing to relinquish more power than required by the order, particularly around hiring and firing employees. The state order, and state laws, allows the Adams 14 board to continue making those decisions when it comes to teachers and the superintendent, but allows the external manager to hire and fire other at-will administrators, just as the superintendent would.
When State Board members asked about principals, Adams 14 officials said the order didn’t mention principals and said that would be a matter of discussion.
State Board member Rebecca McClellan, who indicated she supported the Mapleton proposal, suggested control might be an issue regardless of which external manager was chosen, but Fero said that control was in question given what Mapleton was proposing and requesting.
When State Board members asked the officials of both districts if they’ve been in discussions since the Adams 14 vote, the answer was no. When asked why, Adams 14’s Fero explained that they were still in the phase of selection of a manager. The November order from the state required that the local board choose an external manager, that the State Board approve it, and that a contract then is signed within 30 days.
Some State Board members also raised concerns about Mapleton’s ability to manage another district.
State Board President Angelika Schroeder said the board is limited in what performance measures it considers. While Mapleton seems to do well in engaging the community, she said based on state ratings, the district does not meet the state order requiring that an external manager have a “proven track record.”
“Your district is going down in points,” Schroeder said. “That’s scary. We need to come up with something.”
She suggested Mapleton would need to add another group to its proposal to give the state more more confidence that Mapleton can help improve Adams 14.
Mapleton officials said they were open to hiring other external companies that might provide support, and said several have offered to help, but pressed time and again, Ciancio told the State Board she was not willing to identify such a group before working with the Adams 14 community. She also could not pinpoint how long it would take to identify those subcontractors.
“That’s not something Mapleton would impose on Adams 14,” Ciancio said. “We don’t do that in our own district. If there’s resistance, it won’t work.”
State Board member Val Flores, and at least some crowd members, accused the State Board members raising concerns of believing that only private corporations can work to improve schools.
But even State Board member Jane Goff, who said she was optimistic that the Mapleton and Adams 14 teachers could work together to improve the district, said she struggled with an apparent lack of support from the Adams 14 board for Mapleton.
In the end it came down to the disagreements between adults.
“My great hope is the adults can come together, talk to each other and then come to a consensus on a path forward,” Schroeder said.