Union Files Lawsuit Against Community Decision

On Friday, May 10, the Pueblo Education Association, the local affiliate of the Colorado Education Association for Pueblo School District No. 60, moved to legally challenge an April Colorado State Board of Education decision to allow an outside management company to run the struggling Risley International Academy of Innovation. State Board Chair Angelika Schroeder criticized the union’s actions on Tuesday, calling them disappointing and maintaining that it is in effect shifting attention away from where the focus ought to be: on improving student outcomes.

Risley, the school in question, had demonstrated a long track record of unsatisfactory academic results. In 2017 it received one of the two lowest possible ratings on the state’s accountability scale for the sixth consecutive year, which triggered a turnaround process mandated by state law. The local school district subsequently created a plan that called for an outside partner to step in and manage the failing middle school (which continued to receive low ratings into the fall of 2018).

The initial plan was then approved by the State Board of Education and, after a search process that involved the local community, a partnership including MGT Consulting was selected as the external manager who was to be granted full control over “recruiting and retaining high quality staff and leaders; curriculum and instruction; staff supervision; and finances.” MGT Consulting is the same company that last week received the State Board of Education’s approval as the manager for all of Adams 14 School District.

In an interview with the Pueblo Chieftain last Friday, Colorado Education Association President Amie Baca-Oehlert contended that by allowing MGT to externally manage the Pueblo middle school, “the state has overstepped boundaries with a public school takeover that usurps the will of the Pueblo community.” In their Motion for Preliminary Injunction filed last week, the Pueblo Education Association alleges that the State Board’s order is illegitimately requiring the local school board to delegate powers that the voters elected it specifically to exercise.

All of this comes down to the local union’s belief that only those who have the proverbial skin in the game should be the ones exercising authority in education policy at the local level, and more importantly, that a for-profit organization from another state inherently cannot have a proper level of interest in making a Pueblo school successful. This, however, is little more than an assumption that the union is operating under, and nowhere does it provide compelling evidence to demonstrate how specifically MGT’s being a private company sets it up for failure.

In other words, the lawsuit demonstrates little more than the Association’s inflexible opposition to for-profit company involvement in public education as such; the Association does not make clear in any specific way how continued local control of the school would produce academic results that would differ significantly from those that the school has achieved over the prior eight years.