Only 300 Adams 14 students -- including some from Adams City High School in Commerce City -- will be allowed to enroll in remote school this fall. The district says online learning was expensive and many elementary school kids fell behind their in-person peers. (Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat Colorado)

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A company brought in to manage the struggling Adams 14 school district under state order says its employees have been blocked from schools and prevented from doing their work for more than two weeks, prompting the Colorado State Board of Education to demand answers.

While the outside operator pointed to a track record of improvement, a consultant hired by the new superintendent of the suburban Denver school district called the partnership “totally ineffective” and recommended it end.

Members of the State Board of Education have demanded district officials explain why they stopped working with the company without coming to the State Board to raise concerns, as required under the order. On Friday, the State Board ordered Adams 14 officials to appear at a hearing Sept. 10 to explain whether the school board authorized a stop-work order, whether the school district had exercised authority it was required to delegate to the external manager, and how the district intends to come into compliance.

The conflict represents a test of local control and Colorado’s school accountability system, which doesn’t allow for state takeovers but does allow the State Board to strip school districts of accreditation, reorganize them, and convert schools to charters. If the State Board feels that Adams 14 is out of compliance with its improvement order, it could revive any of those options.

In 2018, Adams 14 became the first school district in Colorado to be ordered to turn most day-to-day operations over to an outside manager. Adams 14 serves a large population of English language learners and students living in poverty in the working class Denver suburb of Commerce City and has struggled for years with low test scores. A federal investigation concluded in 2014 found patterns of discrimination against Hispanic students.

Adams 14 selected Florida-based MGT to serve as its outside manager, and the company formed a local subsidiary, Adams 14 Schools Succeed, to run the district. This summer, halfway through an $8.3 million, four-year contract with the for-profit company, Adams 14 hired its own superintendent, Karla Loria, as part of a gradual transition back to district management.


Erica Meltzer is Bureau Chief of Chalkbeat Colorado, where she also covers the legislature and statewide education issues. Erica was a founding editor of the local news site Denverite. Before that, she covered everything from housing and energy...