Colorado Board of Education denies Adams 14’s request for a new manager

The Colorado State Board of Education on Friday denied Adams 14’s request to select a new organization to manage the school district following the termination of MGT Consulting’s contract in April, saying members need more information amid “conflicting reports” on what is actually occurring between the two entities.

The seven-member board voted unanimously, with members also saying that they can’t determine whether the district had cause to end the partnership with MGT ConsultIing because the district has not revealed the findings of a financial audit conducted last year.

“In this case, perhaps more than other cases, we have had conflicting reports,” said board member Rebecca McClellan, D-Centennial, adding that she wanted to see the results of a report by the State Review Panel on the district that is due in March before making a decision.

The board discussed holding a hearing in April to decide what steps to take next in regards to the future of Adams 14.

“We provided a long list of reasons that supported good cause,” said Joe Salazar, an attorney representing the Adams 14 school board, adding, “This whole hearing today with the state board of education was a hodgepodge of confusion.”

The meeting follows months of tension between Adams 14 and MGT Consulting, which began in the fall when the district stopped working with the company resulting in the state briefly revoking its accreditation.

The breakdown in the relationship has hurt Adams 14, leading it to be unable to fill dozens of staff vacancies as 63 employees resigned last semester, according to the Colorado Department of Education.

“The facts make clear that our turnaround effort was progressing until it hit a roadblock when the new superintendent started last summer,” said Andre Wright, MGT Consulting’s manager for Adams 14, in a statement. “Dysfunction has reigned since then.”

MGT Consulting took over after the state Board of Education ordered Adams 14 to hand over control to a manager in 2018 after years of low test scores and high dropout rates. The school district, based in Commerce City, has about 6,000 students.

“We do acknowledge the district has struggled for many years,” said Superintendent Karla Loría in an interview after the meeting.

But, she said, the partnership with MGT Consulting “has not worked.”

The Department of Education’s presentation during the meeting, which mentioned staff resignations and alluded to employees being fearful of retaliation, “painted a very different picture than what is happening in reality,” Loría said.

The staffing issues, she said, have existed for years, including during the time the district has been under MGT Consulting’s control.

Adams 14 conducted a financial audit last year after the local school board became concerned MGT Consulting was getting the district to pay subcontractors to do work the company was already paid to do.

The district gave the results of the audit to the 17th Judicial District Attorney’s Office but has not made them public and has denied the state Department of Education’s request for copies of the findings, according to the state agency.

Adams 14 also denied The Denver Post’s request – made under the Colorado Open Records Act, or CORA – for a copy of the financial audit.

“We won’t compromise the integrity of the investigation,” Salazar said when asked if the district would make the report public.

A spokesman for the district attorney’s office stopped short of calling it an investigation earlier this month and instead said they are reviewing the documents to “see if there is any additional action that needs to be taken.”

In November, MGT Consulting notified Adams 14 that it had an attorney investigating complaints that at least one employee interfered with the results of the audit. The district then sued the company two months later for allegedly violating the state’s public records law by not handing over documents related to its investigation, which it said was unauthorized.

Then, on Jan. 11, Adams 14 voted for a second time to end its contract with MGT Consulting. That same week the district locked Wright out of both his work email and school buildings as the two entities also clashed over when to resume in-person learning after having moved classes online amid a surge of COVID-19 infections in the state.

Adams 14 has provided its reasons for terminating its contract with MGT Consulting, including its concerns about Wright and whether MGT Consulting’s compliance with the state’s open records laws, Salazar said.

“It is too early to approve a request to find a new lead partner,” said board member Karla Esser, D-Lakewood, during the meeting, adding, “Given the district’s recent failure to cooperate with its manager, we cannot be sure appointing a new lead partner would lead to improvements for students.”

But Jason Malmberg, president of the teacher’s union, called the board’s decision “tone-deaf.”

“The actions of the state board over the past four years has directly, negatively impacted students,” he said. “If not for their actions we would be in a better place today. They’re the ones who forced this marriage.”

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