The Adams 14 school district has won back its accreditation after becoming the first district in Colorado to lose it — if only for a few days.
The Colorado Department of Education confirmed the restoration Thursday after district officials submitted a copy of an agreement made with its private manager, MGT Consulting, and approved by the school board Wednesday night.
The agreement, signed by Adams 14 board President Ramona Lewis and MGT Chairman and CEO Trey Traviesa, agrees to three actions that the State Board requested to ensure that both sides are again working together.
They include ensuring that the MGT team has full control of district management, that the company again retains duties of the superintendent, and that MGT has access to the local school board without going through the superintendent.
The last item was to address MGT officials’ complaint to the state that the Adams 14 administration blocked them from board meetings in recent months.
“We are pleased to return to a focus on students, teachers and families in Adams 14, now that the district and MGT have put aside their disputes and come back into compliance with the board’s order,” stated Angelika Schroeder, State Board chair, in a news release. “Making substantial change in a district that has struggled for years will need everyone’s focus. Students, teachers and families in Adams 14 deserve nothing less.”
The district lost its accreditation after a series of disputes in recent months.
They started after new Superintendent Karla Loria joined the district. She was to work together with the district’s private external management leaders.
In 2018, the State Board of Education had forced Adams 14 to turn over management of daily operations to a third party, in an effort to improve chronically low student achievement that previous improvement plans failed to raise.
Loria hired a consultant to help create a transition plan, but instead the consultant evaluated the company’s work and ultimately agreed with the district’s attorney, who found fault with MGT’s work.
MGT leaders disputed the consultant’s findings.
Nevertheless, Adams 14 administrators then blocked MGT officials from district buildings.
The State Board of Education ruled that the lockout constituted a violation of its state order that the district remain under external management. The state asked Adams 14 to allow MGT to return to schools.
The state board also asked the two sides to work together and submit a statement demonstrating that they were doing so.
But negotiations didn’t go well, and Adams 14 missed a deadline last week to submit a joint report. That triggered an automatic suspension of the district’s accreditation.
The suspension didn’t immediately affect students or district operations, even though state law says losing accreditation can open the door to dissolving a district.
Instead, the State Board asked Adams 14 and MGT to try again and set another deadline.
This time, the sides signed and submitted the joint statement on time.
“Adams 14 truly appreciates the steadfast efforts of its Board of Education leading to this critically beneficial resolution for the district and its students,” a news release from the district states. “The district further thanks its dedicated team of educators, administrators, support staff, and volunteers for maintaining their continuous focus on high-quality teaching and learning in the midst of these external events.”
Contentious issues that MGT had pressed for in the first round of negotiations, such as renegotiating a possible $500,000 bonus, back payments, and a requested pledge not to sue, did not end up in the signed agreement.
Robert Lundin, a spokesman for the Adams 14 school district, said that he was not aware of continued discussions about the bonus or other payments, but said that “there is ongoing dialogue related to how each party consults with each other.”
The district also said in the released statement that the Adams 14 board “has indicated its intent to communicate directly with its constituents regarding this action and the events that preceded it.” Meetings will be scheduled soon.
“The local board’s decision this week is a step forward for Adams 14. It’s unfortunate that there’s been a dispute at all, but our focus now is on removing this distraction from the critical work we need to do on behalf of students and families,” said Eric Parish, executive vice president of MGT Consulting in a written statement.
Another issue is that even though the State Board required Adams 14 to resume working with MGT for now, the board said the district may seek to amend the state’s orders, if the district has serious concerns about MGT. The district would have to route requested changes through the State Board.
Other districts under state improvement orders that involve working with external partners have sought and received amendments in the past, including ones to change partners.
Last month Superintendent Loria proposed to the state replacing MGT with the School Superintendents Association. But last week she said she had suspended those plans while she was focused on complying with the latest state request.
However, the district is still awaiting results of a fiscal audit of payments to MGT and its subcontractors. The findings might instigate further friction between the two partners.