Adams 14 school board members ignored concerns from state officials about contracting with a national for-profit company, and instead chose it on Tuesday as their new pick to help manage the district for the next four years.
With no board discussion, the district’s attorney read a prepared resolution that laid out reasons for selecting the Florida-based MGT Consulting, such as having local employees and good references from other districts. The resolution also laid out concerns with other candidates. It passed unanimously.
The district is also asking MGT to work with another management finalist, Schools Cubed, a local organization that has already been working in the district on some reading improvement work.
Colorado has ordered Adams 14 to hire outside management to help improve academic achievement — which the district has failed to do on its own for several years.
The selection represents a risky one for Adams 14, and may push the district closer to a fight with the state over keeping a measure of local control. Adams 14 is the first district in Colorado that is being forced to give up any authority to an outside entity. Teachers union officials and even the Adams County Democrats have asked the state to respect local control. In Colorado, state law prevents state officials from taking over a school district directly, but the State Board of Education is exercising its say.
The local board in February first chose Mapleton Public Schools, a neighboring district that was a community favorite, as outside manager, but the State Board of Education eventually struck down that choice. State board members also criticized the favored runner-up, MGT Consulting, for lacking a record of successfully completing the management of an entire district.
The State Board still could turn down MGT and instead impose a solution on Adams 14, such as forcing the district to work with a specific manager, or ordering more drastic changes such as dissolving the district. One State Board member threatened that if the district doesn’t make an appropriate selection, he would favor converting every Adams 14 school into a charter school, though it’s unlikely that he could get the full board’s support for that.
MGT has enlisted the help of a program within the University of Virginia to help train principals and improve district leadership.
The MGT proposal calls first for identifying the schools that need the most help and creating “learning labs” on some campuses for intensive work with the university.
It will spell out other changes later.
The state board recently approved MGT to help manage improvement at a school in Aurora and one in Pueblo.
Leading up to Tuesday’s decision, three manager finalists made pitches to the local school board within the last week. Adams 14 board members grilled one of them, Empower, about its meetings with state officials and data about its work in Denver schools.
MGT officials tried hard to show Adams 14 and state officials that it has the necessary experience and personnel.
It named recent hires, including Harry Bull, former superintendent for the Cherry Creek School District and 2017 Superintendent of the Year. Bull will serve as MGT’s state education transformation executive. Two others, Don Rangel, and Ron Cabrera, are so new they don’t yet have official titles. Rangel is superintendent of the Weld RE-1 district that serves Gilcrest, LaSalle and Platteville. Cabrera retired as superintendent from the Boulder school district and recently served as interim superintendent of Denver schools.
Adams 14 Board member Harvest Thomas told MGT officials during that presentation that he didn’t believe all that would be enough.
On Tuesday, board members did not discuss their decision before the vote. It has held several closed meetings leading up to the decision.
The teachers association demonstrated Tuesday and asked the school board to require its external manager to commit to using a community schools model that the legislature has approved. The model goes beyond academics to provide broader services to students and their families.
The State Board in November ordered the district to contract with outside help for at least four years.
State officials want the external manager to start working July 1. School district officials wanted a firm in place even earlier, this spring.
But more delay is likely. The State Board of Education likely won’t weigh in until its next meeting May 8 and 9. If the state board approves the selection, the district will have 30 days to negotiate and sign a contract that pins down the cost and defines the company’s work. The applicants’ proposal did not include any prices, but finalists were asked to provide an estimate in a sealed envelope, only to be opened if they were selected. During the last meeting, local board members asked MGT to disclose that cost, and officials said their proposal was estimated to cost $2 million in the first year.
Department of Education staff will review the contract, but will only involve the State Board if officials feel the contract doesn’t match what the board intended, on issues such as how much authority to give up, for example.
State Board officials already have expressed concern over Adams 14’s willingness to give up authority. Just how much control the district will give its manager has been the focus of heated back-and-forth discussions between Adams 14 board members and State Board members in at least two public hearings. It was also one issue the first proposed manager, Mapleton Public Schools, couldn’t agree on with Adams 14, before the State Board ended that partnership.