By Kati Weis

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (CBS4) – In one week, the Adams 14 School Board voted to fire its private management company over allegations of misuse of taxpayer money and the Colorado School Board voted to conduct an independent review of Adams 14. Since the private management company will remain on the job until April, disagreement over management decisions has already continued through the week, and could continue. So what’s next for the district?

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Rhonda Haniford, Associate Commissioner of School Quality and Support for the Colorado Department of Education, says the state review will determine the district’s fate.

“This independent panel’s report will help the state board determine what action or next steps they might want to take, which could include potentially reorganizing a district or converting one or more schools to charters if those things might be necessary to support students,” Haniford said.

Adams 14 officials tell CBS4 they’re hoping to work with the state to identify and hire a new management company, but Haniford says until the independent review results are released in March, the state board won’t make any decisions.

“We are very concerned about the status of student learning that’s occurring in Adams 14,” Haniford said. “We are going to continue to monitor progress of the district, and the state board is absolutely focused on doing what’s best for the students and the families of the Adams 14 School District.”

The Adams 14 School Board voted Tuesday to terminate its contract with its private management company – MGT Consulting – after a forensic audit found concerns of misuse of funds. The termination will go into effect in April – 90 days following the school board vote.

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School officials tell CBS4 the district has already paid MGT some $7 million. Many of the services promised, officials don’t believe they’ve received.

“Our board fundamentally said enough was enough, keeping peace with a company that we feel like is taking advantage of our kids is no way to serve children that deserve the best possible education,” said Dr. Robert Lundin, the executive Director of Communications for Adams 14. “Three years into this to not have a strategy for improving schools is unacceptable.”

Just two days after that vote, MGT and Adams 14 butted heads again over a decision regarding remote or in-person learning. Adams 14 wanted to keep students home for one more week due to high COVID-19 case numbers in Adams County, but MGT directed students to go back to the classroom instead.

“It is disappointing at the least, and deeply unsettling at worst, particularly for our families,” said Lundin.

MGT said of the decision in a written statement, “our schools and offices are taking many precautions, and in-person learning is so critical for students, especially after the disruptions of the last two years.”

Amid all of that, Adams 14 is also suing MGT for public documents and information it says the company is withholding.

The suit alleges MGT hired an attorney using district money, without authorization, to conduct “surreptitious” personnel investigations regarding the forensic audit.

“(The attorney) infiltrated the district, accessed confidential information, and accessed district personnel under the false premise of being hired ‘by the district,'” Adams 14 writes in the suit.

The suit is seeking documentation pertaining to that personnel investigation.

The state required MGT to run the district in 2018 after consistently low student performance ratings. Those ratings haven’t improved.

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Parents of students in Adams 14 tell CBS4 they are tired of having sub-par schools, and they’re hoping for real solutions soon. Evelyn Margerum, a mom of a fourth-grader in Adams 14, says charter schools could be a good option.

“They have a lot of issues, not just management-wise, they just have issues all the way around,” said Margerum.

MGT contends it has helped the district make progress. Andre Wright, the manager for MGT overseeing Adams 14, issued the following statements this week:

“The tension over this decision is indicative of a larger problem, which is that the district is violating the order of the State Board of Education — again. Earlier this week, the superintendent inexplicably revoked my access to the district offices. This is the second time in six months that the district has locked out MGT, even though the district has agreed that MGT is the lead partner. The dysfunction created by the local school board and the new superintendent make it incredibly difficult to continue the progress we’d made in the previous two years, when graduation rates went up and dropout rates went down. It’s past time for the local administrators to stop their petty games and allow us focus on supporting students and families.

The State Board of Education made clear (Wednesday) it’s frustrated by local leaders’ attempts to stifle progress by creating adult-centered drama, and we strongly agree. The surprising action by the local school board to terminate our contract violates the State’s order — again. We welcome an independent review of what has played out in Adams 14 since the new superintendent arrived. We are confident the independent review will show our steadfast focus on students and families while the local board and new superintendent continue to exacerbate a power struggle of their own making.”

Kati Weis