The Adams 14 school district is searching for a new external manager, but has released few details or the names of the finalists, despite interviews being set for Monday.
The process contrasts with how the process worked when the district last hired an external manager in 2019.
The district, north of Denver, faces a mid-April hearing when the Colorado State Board of Education must decide on a new improvement plan to turnaround years of low academic achievement in the district. One outside panel has recommended closing at least the high school, and possibly reorganizing the rest of the district.
District officials, led by the superintendent hired last year, are working on an improvement plan of their own to present to the state as an alternative to school closings.
The internal plan would create at least one community school — a model that would analyze the needs of families, and bring in resources such as a food pantry, health clinic, or adult classes.
The proposal also will include working with an external manager, but with a new authority structure.
Proposals from those interested in the external management work were due to the district Wednesday afternoon. The district has refused to release those proposals to the public or answer Chalkbeat’s questions about the process including how many groups applied.
The district’s request for proposals, which was shared, lays out a tight timeline. Three finalists will be chosen Friday, two days after applications were due, and those finalists will have on-site interviews Monday.
No information about the search, which started in February, about the committee that will conduct interviews, or about Monday’s interviews, is on the district’s website as of Friday afternoon.
In 2019, when the last manager was selected, Adams 14 created a community engagement process in which, over the course of a month, dozens of parents and community members vetted the nine applicants for the position, and made recommendations.
Ultimately, the State Board rejected the community’s first pick, neighboring Mapleton Public Schools, prompting the local school board to vote on a second choice, MGT Consulting, despite the State Board voicing concerns about that finalist. In the first two years, state education officials had said MGT’s work was mostly on track, but this school year, the new superintendent immediately began raising concerns about the company’s work, locking them out of the district twice, and taking them to court, until the school board and MGT agreed to terminate the contract.
It’s unclear if the public will be allowed to participate or observe Monday’s interviews. A district employee said the interviews were to be conducted by a committee of staff, parents, and community members, but did not know how that group was selected. The school board was expected to attend to watch only.
The school board has a special meeting scheduled for Tuesday, and an agenda posted early Friday listed a resolution titled “External Management Partner for Adams 14.” That meeting notice, and agenda, were removed by Friday afternoon.
Superintendent Karla Loria has maintained she is willing to work with a manager, despite having been at odds with the previous external manager. But Loria wants to maintain authority over such a consultant.
In the previous arrangement, the State Board of Education ordered the district to give the external management company authority to review and recommend policy changes, make changes to instructional programming, and recommend personnel changes to the board, among other responsibilities.
The State Board drafted the order with those specifics because members felt that the district leadership at the time would not easily give up authority.
This time, the district’s request for proposals, states that the managing partner will be “supporting efforts” of the district in those areas, or “recommending to the superintendent,” about those changes — allowing Loria to maintain authority.
The request for proposals asks bidders to submit a sealed cost estimate that would only be opened if that manager is selected. The same process was used in selecting the last external manager.
This time, State Board members have already said they’re concerned that another external manager won’t be enough to make the drastic improvements still necessary in the district. The outside panel also noted concerns about the district’s leadership abilities.
District leaders say they are up to the challenge of improving the district, and note that the superintendent is new, as is the school board. One of the five board members joined in November. And even though the superintendent was hired in May, leaders say that she shouldn’t be judged as a district leader until MGT left the district last month.
The State Board has limited options to direct improvement in a low-performing district but can order closure, conversion of schools to charter schools, or start a district reorganization which may dissolve the district.
Read the district’s request for proposals here:
Yesenia Robles is a reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado covering K-12 school districts and multilingual education. Contact Yesenia at firstname.lastname@example.org.