Colorado’s largest teacher’s union is suing to stop plans to turn over the management of a struggling school district to a private firm.
On Tuesday, the Colorado Education Association filed a complaint with Denver district court against the State Board of Education and the local Adams 14 school board, asking for an injunction on the proposed takeover of the Adams 14 district by Florida-based MGT Consulting. It follows a lengthy community discussion over what entity should be tasked with improving outcomes in the district.
The lawsuit asserts that the local school board “failed to fulfill its constitutional and statutory duties,” by handing over control of the district and spending public funds on the private operator.
“It is in the public interest to ensure that state and local funds are spent in a manner consistent with state law,” the filing states.
The CEA said in the filing that it is upholding its core belief that public schools should remain public.
Barb McDowell, the Adams 14 teacher’s union president, said her organization is worried about the privatization of public schools.
“I feel like this [takeover] was wanted by [the school board]. They wanted us, Adams 14, to be the next New Orleans, the next Detroit,” she said, referring to districts nationwide that are either composed almost entirely of charter schools, or have lost control to the state. “We’re going to fight that.”
McDowell said her main concern is the lack of connection a private company like MGT has to the community.
“When you have a private group coming in who has zero skin in the game, they can get up and leave at any time," McDowell said. "Our families have had enough of that and they need stability and they need someone who's there for the long haul.”
State Board of Education Chairwoman Angelika Schroeder, a Democrat, said in a statement she is frustrated with the lawsuit.
“For over eight years, Adams 14 students have attended schools with some of the lowest performance ratings in the state, and it’s time to take dramatic action to improve educational opportunities for these kids,” Schroeder said. “It is unfair to the students and their families to be caught in the middle of this disagreement between adults. The fact is, the district needs a manager with fresh eyes and creative, proven ideas to bring about immediate improvements.”
She said the lawsuit is in direct opposition to the goal of making substantial improvements at the district that has struggled academically for years.
In May, the State Board of Education approved the company to run the Adams 14 district, which includes Commerce City. MGT Consulting is also taking over a school in Pueblo, in partnership with a local education training program.
Adams 14 has been on the state’s watch list for multiple years of low performance. State law requires the state board intervene when a district is chronically low performing. State officials say the law gives the board several options, including requiring a district or school to work with an external management partner.
Adams 14 educators and many community members wanted the neighboring Mapleton School District to take over managing the district, which has more than 7,500 students. The state board instead settled on MGT Consulting after initial objections.
The Colorado Education Association alleged the state overstepped its constitutional and statutory authority in turning control over of an entire school district to a private, for-profit company. CEA wants to block property taxes from being used to pay the private company and delegating what it calls “non-delegable” authority.
The CEA filed a similar lawsuit in May challenging the takeover of the Pueblo-area school Risley International Academy of Innovation by MGT and the University of Virginia Darden/Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education.
“Power is taken away from the people when schools and districts are handed over to private companies without any connection to the community or responsibility to the taxpayers,” CEA President Amie Baca-Oehlert said in a statement at the time. “The State Board is abdicating its responsibility to Colorado communities by handing over the hard work of school improvement to private companies.”
Adams 14 officials signed a four-year, $8.3-million contract with MGT Consulting on June 7. MGT has hired retired district leaders and former educators from the Denver metro area to lead the turnaround.