Apologizing for not having stopped the process sooner, the Colorado State Board of Education on Thursday voted to reject the Mapleton school district as an external manager for the troubled Adams 14 district.
In November, the State Board ordered that Adams 14 hire an outside manager to take over much of its operations for four years after chronic low performance over eight years. Adams 14 allowed the community to review applicants for manager, and ultimately a board majority selected Mapleton, a neighboring district.
In March, state board members expressed concerns and declined to approve the choice. Members were concerned about declining academic performance in Mapleton, and its ability to manage another district. But at that time the State Board stopped short of rejecting Mapleton, instead asking leaders of both districts to work together to identify a third party that could strengthen Mapleton’s proposal.
“We didn’t react properly to express an opinion that this was never a viable option,” board member Steve Durham said Thursday. “We allowed this to drag on and in many ways jeopardized or minimized the opportunity for success. I think that was a mistake that we made, or at least that I made as a board member.”
On Thursday State Board members also said they don’t believe any school district should attempt to serve in that role. Board President Angelika Schroeder questioned whether the state should draft that prohibition into future orders for districts.
“That’s really just not the purpose of the district,” Schroeder said. “I feel somewhat responsible that we went in that direction. I guess I never believed it would come to that.”
In any case, Adams 14 apparently no longer was considering Mapleton as a manager.
In a letter signed Wednesday by Adams 14 board President Connie Quintana, she told the State Board that her board would attempt to identify a new external manager at its next meeting, on April 23.
“Now that it is clear our prior selection of Mapleton will not be approved as submitted or resubmitted with amendment, the Adams 14 board must determine whether another selection can be made from the remaining applicants,” the letter states.
In the last month, Adams 14 gave Mapleton an ultimatum asking it to commit to work with MGT Consulting, another manager applicant that the community ranked just below Mapleton. But Mapleton refused to agree to those terms.
State Board members Thursday pointedly stated that the Florida-based company might not be an appropriate manager either because it has only one experience managing an entire school district. That venture, in Gary, Indiana, is still in process. Thus the board pointed out, the firm has no whole-district track record of success.
The State Board majority did not raise the same concern when they approved plans for MGT to manage individual schools in Aurora and Pueblo.
Board member Durham suggested that if Adams 14 fails to identify a proper manager, he will push to have all of the district’s schools turned into charter schools.
Schroeder said that option wasn’t yet necessary, and that she believed Adams 14 could make an appropriate choice.
She also directed comments at the community, asking them to understand that neither the State Board nor the Adams 14 board are bound to make a decision based on the community’s choice, just because it was engaged in the process.
“The community engagement process is one of both listening and providing information, but it does not take over the role of a school board,” Schroeder said.
Community members and the district’s teacher union have been speaking and writing letters asking both the Adams 14 board and the State Board to “respect the community’s choice” and to let its selection of Mapleton as an external manager stand.
Community members who reviewed management applicants preferred Mapleton because it is not a private entity nor a charter operator, and because as a neighboring district it could understand Adams 14’s demographics and community culture.
After the decision, Mapleton Superintendent Charlotte Ciancio did not address the State Board’s rejection, but said the district remains interested in working with Adams 14. However, she said there were reasons Mapleton preferred not to accept the management position with the limits on authority that Adams 14 set.
“Throughout this process, we have encountered some sticking points concerning partnerships and control. We still believe it is in the best interest of the Adams 14 community to identify partners who are aligned with what the community needs,” she wrote in an email. “Also, without the appropriate authority we could not accept this responsibility because the one thing we cannot and will not do is fail.”