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Here’s what reorganization could mean for Adams 14

Students walks through the hall at Adams City High School between classes Monday, Feb. 4, 2019 in Commerce City.

Adams 14 is the first district in Colorado to be forced to start a reorganization process.

Michael Ciaglo / Special to the Denver Post

The Adams 14 school district is set to be the first district in Colorado forced to start a reorganization process after years of low academic performance on the state’s accountability system. 

Since this would be the first time for the law to be used this way, there are many questions about how it works and what it means. Here, we try to answer some important questions for families.

Will student diplomas be affected, or worth any less, because the district lost its accreditation?

No. The state accredits districts as part of the state accountability system, but losing accreditation doesn’t impact a district’s funding, student diplomas, or student eligibility to go to college or to get scholarships. Katy Anthes, the commissioner for the education department, said loss of accreditation shouldn’t hurt students at all. It also doesn’t impact any daily school operations. 

Instead, it is meant to signal to the community that this school district has been low-performing based on the state’s ratings “for far too long,” she said.

What is reorganization and when will it start?

There are two state laws outlining how to start reorganization, a process for consolidating, annexing, or creating school districts. The one the state board has selected ultimately will require voter approval. 

The process starts with creating a committee made up of board members and parents from affected districts to reimagine district boundaries. That plan could take many forms, including creating a new district with the same boundaries as Adams 14, (essentially restarting the same district), or allowing neighboring districts to take over parts of the existing Adams 14.

That committee would be formed after the state board’s orders are written out and finalized, which may take a couple of weeks. 

Are schools closing?

For now, schools are not closing as a result of the state board’s decision. When the reorganization committee meets to create a plan, it can close schools as part of the changes, but doesn’t have to. That process is expected to take a long time and will not be completed before next school year.

Adams 14 itself, however, is considering closing schools in its own plans. On Monday, after parent outcry, the superintendent pulled a plan to close Hanson Elementary and transfer existing students to Monaco in the fall. Leaders said the proposed closure was needed because of declining enrollment, and to move students from the alternative high school into Hanson’s building, which has a cafeteria and space for more programming, something the current building doesn’t have. Ramona Lewis, the board president, told parents they would take more time to consider options.

The shuttering of Hanson is just one of many closures or school mergers suggested in a facilities assessment for Adams 14 from January 2020. 

What about parents who want to send their children to other schools?

Colorado allows open enrollment, and parents always have the right to send their child to any school that has room. More than 3,000 students who live within Adams 14 boundaries already attend school in neighboring districts. 

Starting next school year, some families might get state assistance with transportation. The details are still being worked out, but the State Board of Education signed off on plans to develop a grant program to cover transportation costs for families in the lowest-performing schools.

How does the community get to participate in reorganization plans?

First, at least one parent from each of the affected districts — Adams 14, Mapleton, Adams 12, and 27J — will need to be part of the committee. The parents will be chosen by the district’s accountability committees. Then, meetings of the reorganization committee have to be open to the public. Once the committee has a draft of a plan, it is required to hold community meetings to share the proposal and gather feedback. The committee is then supposed to take that feedback into account to finalize the plan before submitting it to the state for approval. 

After the plan is approved by the commissioner, it will go to the voters. Ultimately, voters in the participating affected districts will have the final say to approve or deny the plan. 

Can the district appeal the state’s decision to start reorganization?

While there is no formal appeal process, the district is expected to file court challenges to the state orders. Joe Salazar, an Adams 14 attorney, said he believes the state was required to have an appeals process outside of the courts for these state board orders. State education officials said they don’t believe that to be a requirement. 

Will the district have a new management company?

Since the process to reorganize the district will take a long time, the state board also passed an order that requires Adams 14 to again contract with an external manager. The state board wants the district to be under full management, just as when it was under MGT Consulting, but this time is allowing the district to retain control of its own finances. 

However, Adams 14 leaders are proceeding with negotiations to hire the nonprofit TNTP, not as full managers, but under the existing plan to make them partial managers. The district’s attorney and other district leaders now believe the state’s order from 2018 forcing the superintendent to give up authority is illegal. In the partial management plan, they would give TNTP full authority over the human resources department, but not the authority to hire or fire employees. 

This was a concern for state board members at this week’s hearing. Adams 14 leaders still claim the plan will be enough to comply with the state’s order. This is expected to be another area where the state and district could disagree. 

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that under the process ordered by the State Board, only voters will have to approve the reorganization plan recommended by the committee and the commissioner. School boards will not vote on the plan.

Yesenia Robles is a reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado covering K-12 school districts and multilingual education. Contact Yesenia at yrobles@chalkbeat.org.

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