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Adams 14 loses accreditation, State Board orders new negotiations

Young children in masks and winter coats line up to enter an Adams 14 school building on a snowy day.
File photo shows students in Adams 14 waiting to get into school last January. The State Board of Education on Monday ordered the district to agree with its management company MGT in three days.
Hyoung Chang / The Denver Post

Adams 14 has become the first district in Colorado to lose its accreditation, after failing to reconcile with the private company managing its affairs.

On Monday, the State Board of Education gave the district three days to regain its status, while scolding both district and company leaders for fighting over “adult issues.”

The district lost its accreditation after missing the State Board’s Friday deadline to submit a joint statement with MGT Consulting, the management company, to report that they were working together. Instead, Adams 14 submitted a solo statement claiming it had tried to resolve issues and blaming the company for making demands the district could not agree to.

Colorado has no precedent for an unaccredited public K-12 district. For now, Education Commissioner Katy Anthes said, Adams 14 schools will continue as normal.

“We never want to get to this step of accreditation being removed, but given how students continue to be impacted, that is where we are today,” Anthes said. “The reality is things must change. Things must stabilize.

“Losing accreditation does not immediately impact the day-to-day operations of the school,” Anthes said. “The doors will still be open, funding continues, and students, teachers and families should continue to go to school, continue to focus on their studies. This is effectively asking adults to work together and do it expediently.”

Legally, the state may dissolve the district, but that doesn’t happen automatically. It’s a long process that requires another decision by the State Board.

Monday the State Board of Education voted 6-1 to order once again that district officials negotiate with leaders of MGT and sign a memorandum of understanding by Thursday.

Board members expressed concern about some of MGT’s actions, including asking the district for more money, but also emphasized that Adams 14 has not adequately served its students for at least a decade.

An agreement could allow the State Board to restore accreditation without any consequences.

Board member Karla Esser lamented that the district is not working well with MGT managers.

“It’s really just adults behaving badly,” Esser said. “I don’t believe in punishment or reward,” but, she said, the district must understand that it needs to follow State Board orders and that it can’t just “throw everything overboard and start over again.”

In the meeting, State Board member Rebecca McClellan, the sole vote against Monday’s action, initially proposed immediately restoring Adams 14’s accreditation, to recognize that the district already made a good-faith effort to try to comply with state orders.

McClellan said she feared that the state orders for the two sides to cooperate, imposing a consequence only on the district, put Adams 14 at a disadvantage.

“If we do not recognize the local district’s already demonstrated willingness to act in good faith, we are placing them right back in the position they already were in,” McClellan said.

Her motion failed 4 to 3, with Board Chair Angelika Schroeder joining Republicans to reject the more lenient approach. Board member Steve Durham said that the district should not be rewarded for a crisis it created.

MGT has been running Adams 14 since 2019, after the State Board ordered the district to hire outside help to improve student learning. Problems between the district and MGT started earlier this year after Adams 14 hired a superintendent, Karla Loria.

Before her first day, Loria hired a consultant to design a transition plan for MGT and the district to share responsibilities. Instead, the consultant wrote a report evaluating MGT and eventually recommending ending the partnership.

Adams 14 used that report to issue a stop-work order blocking MGT staff from schools. The State Board ruled that order a violation of its 2018 mandate that required external management for at least four years.

MGT was beginning the third year of its contract this fall. So far, the district has paid more than $7 million on a four-year, $8.4 million contract.

During the failed negotiations for Friday’s joint report, MGT asked Adams 14 to waive all claims that could possibly lead to district lawsuits against the company, and in exchange MGT would promise to not sue the district. Adams 14 is awaiting results of a financial audit of MGT’s contracts and subcontracts.

MGT also had asked Adams 14 to renegotiate a potential $500,000 bonus — currently unavailable because of the pandemic disruption.

Schroeder said Monday that McClellan’s failed motion would have removed any incentive for Adams 14 to collaborate with MGT and restore the work the company had been doing.

“I agree that the vendor tried to pull a fast one on the district. That made us all angry,” Schroeder said. But by restoring accreditation right away, “there would be absolutely no reason for Adams 14 to do anything further, and that was much too troubling for me.”

District officials did not respond to requests for comment after the vote.

MGT expressed appreciation for the State Board order, Executive Vice President Eric Parish said in an emailed statement.

“We are hopeful that the additional time can lead to an agreement this week with the school district,” Parish said. “We strongly agree with the State Board members that the focus needs to be on students’ needs.”

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