Joint PEA/CEA: CEA Files Complaint to Challenge State’s Move to Privatize Public School

Joint Pubelo Education Association/Colorado Education Association Press Release

Community Schools model preferred over for-profit, private company managing Risley International Academy of Innovation

PUEBLO, Colo. – The Colorado Education Association upheld a core belief that public schools remain public by filing a Complaint for Declaratory Relief and a Motion for Preliminary Injunction today against the Colorado State Board of Education and the Pueblo City Schools Board of Education.

“The state has overstepped boundaries with a public school takeover that usurps the will of the Pueblo community,” said CEA President Amie Baca-Oehlert, a high school counselor. “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. The State Board is abdicating its responsibility to Colorado communities by handing over the hard work of school improvement to private companies.”

The pleadings seek to halt the State Board’s decision, April 10, to allow MGT, together with University of Virginia Darden/Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education, to become the external manager for Risley International Academy of Innovation. The plaintiffs named in the complaint are the Pueblo Education Association, PEA President Suzanne Ethredge, and Robert Donovan, a teacher at Risley and PEA member.

“Risley is a proud community that loves its school and its educators. We have clear direction from community members that they want to solve challenges from within and tailor a plan of school improvement for Risley that involves administrators, teachers, students, and community members,” said Ethredge. “Out-of-state, private companies like MGT are not a part of our community, they are not motivated to understand relationships that have been built over time nor do they share our community values.”

Ethredge said past attempts to improve student achievement at Risley under multiple consultants with so-called improvement programs failed because they never addressed the root causes of why students struggle. The chaos and uncertainty that ensued only exacerbated the extreme teacher turnover at Risley, up to 40% annually.

“Out-of-state, private companies have no skin in the game. They can choose anytime to pack up their profits and leave town even when the school is left in worse shape than before,” Ethredge added.

Educators in Pueblo favor continuing work that has already begun at Risley to adopt the Community Schools model for improvement, one that allows public schools to comprehensively address the full range of a child’s needs (academic, health, nutritional, psychological), especially those needs arising from poverty.

Donovan led community forums over the past couple years aimed at  transforming Risley into a Community School, encouraged by research demonstrating such schools in many other parts of the country have experienced lower rates of absenteeism, higher enrollment in college preparatory classes, higher graduation rates, and better student work habits, grades, test scores, and behavior.

“I’m convinced student achievement will rise, and teacher turnover will decrease, when the district respects experienced, quality educators and trusts us to lead change and form strategic partnerships for student support as a Community School,” said Donovan.

Colorado communities scored a major victory with passage of a bill recognizing the exciting promise of Community Schools (SB-102). This law provides a common definition of Community Schools for districts to consider as an option in their school innovation plans. “The State Board must recognize the faith our Governor and Legislature have placed in Community Schools to bring about the substantive, lasting improvement we all want to see in the schools our students deserve,” Baca-Oehlert concluded.

Media can request the pleadings from Mike Wetzel, CEA public relations director (mwetzel@coloradoea.org).

# # #