Struggling Adams14 School District loses accreditation after years of academic underperformance

Loss of accreditation won't impact daily operations of schools
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Posted at 6:33 PM, Oct 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-05 17:57:38-04

DENVER -- For the first time in state history, a school district has lost its accreditation.

During a special meeting Monday, the Colorado State Board of Education announced the revocation of the Adams14 School District’s accreditation amid a dispute between the district and its external management group.

The management group has been brought in to oversee the district for a period of four years after years of academic underperformance.

The district had been disputing with MGT for months, until the conversation reached a boiling point in August. The district had hired an outside group to perform an independent evaluation of MGT’s work.

The district then alleged that it had paid the management group millions to cover the expenses of subcontractors, but then Adams14 paid the subcontractors separately for identical services.

A stop-work order was issued at that time and MGT staff were kicked out of Adams14 school buildings. It also stopped paying MGT.

In September, the Colorado State Board of Education held a meeting and directed the school district and management group to find a way to work together and sign a joint report as proof of that cooperation.

MGT and the district then began to negotiate over backpay, a $500,000 bonus and legal liabilities but could not come to an agreement by the Oct. 1 deadline set by the state board.

During Monday’s special meeting, the board went into executive session for nearly two hours to discuss the dispute. When they came back into public session, board members then made clear the district has lost its accreditation and would need to take significant steps to regain that status.

“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. I hope that this signals the incredible importance and concern that we have for this district and the students in it. The reality is things must change,” said Katy Anthes, the commissioner of education.

A loss of accreditation does not affect the daily operations of schools nor the funding the district will receive.

Instead, the state board becomes more involved and lays out steps forward. If the district does not comply, the state board could order it to reorganize, dissolve or merge with another.

During Monday’s meeting, the board implored the two sides to try to work together toward a resolution.

“Now, what we really need is both parties to put aside their differences and get back to what’s important and that’s what’s happening in the classroom,” Anthes said. “This is effectively asking adults to work together and to do it expediently.”

However, within the state board itself, there was a disagreement on what to require of the school district. Some called for only the district to have its accreditation restored after signing a memorandum of understanding.

Board member Rebecca McClellan said that by restoring MGT’s authority and access to the school buildings, the district has made a good faith effort to comply with the state’s orders. Other board members agreed and accused MGT of trying to take advantage of the situation with some of its demands.

However, the majority of the state board disagreed. The most outspoken was Steve Durham, who said the district has been misbehaving and not following the dispute resolution orders it was supposed to. He said restoring the district’s accreditation without some sort of agreement with MGT would be rewarding bad behavior.

“I believe their (the district’s) violation of the order was deliberate, and they intended to create a crisis,” Durham said.

He agreed that some of the demands made by MGT were unreasonable but instead proposed a motion where the two sides would need to agree that MGT has management of the district and the previous contract remains in place.

The motion passed and the district now has until Thursday to comply or further actions could be taken.

“We appreciate how thoughtfully the State Board considered the ongoing situation in Adams 14, and we are hopeful that the additional time can lead to an agreement this week with the school district. We strongly agree with the State Board members that the focus needs to be on students’ needs,” said Eric Parish, Executive Vice President, MGT Consulting in a statement to Denver7.

Adams14 school district did not respond to requests for an interview or statement.

On Tuesday, the Colorado Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, provided a statement saying Commerce City educators are focused on providing "exceptional teaching and learning for every single student."

“I’m not going to lie – the State Board of Education’s vote to strip away the district’s accreditation is disheartening for Adams 14 educators who work hard every day to make sure we’re meeting our students’ needs," said Jason Malmberg, President of the School District 14 Classroom Teachers Association. "But make no mistake – regardless of what’s happening outside the classroom, we are committed to continue putting our hearts and souls into teaching and supporting students every day.”