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State Board of Education recommends external management partner to help Heroes Academy, Risley International

PUEBLO – Action is being taken to help two struggling middle schools in Pueblo: Heroes Academy and Risley International Academy of Innovation.

Both schools have failed to meet state standards for several years which triggered an order from the Colorado State Board of Education on Tuesday. The order recommended that D60 choose an external managing partner to take charge of these schools.

Pueblo City Schools Board of Education met on Tuesday and with the order coming down only hours beforehand, the board was still digesting its contents.

President Barb Clementi said that no decision has been made about anything regarding this order. The meeting was a chance to review the history of Heroes and Risley, and to explain to the public some of the boundaries and provisions of this order.

During the meeting Ted Johnson, executive director of continuous improvement and innovation, said, “As a middle school, Heroes has not demonstrated sufficient academic achievement and growth for several years.”

Pueblo City Schools said Heroes Academy has remained at “turnaround” or “priority improvement” status since 2010. At Risley, it’s been about the same. Some growth was seen in math achievements this year, but all other areas remain in the “Does Not Meet” category.

D60 Superintendent Charlotte Macaluso said, “The state panel review did not recommend closure or converging a charter for either of these two schools.”

Instead, the state is ordering an external management partner to help each school, something D60 actually requested when they met with the board a few weeks ago.

Dalton Sprouse, director of communications for D60, said, “We want to make sure that we pick the best partner for each of these schools. That may be one partner at each school individually or it might be one partner that works with both schools.”

The order outlines several provisions.

Clementi said, “The managing partner is to manage the schools on site on a full-time basis and it reports directly then to this board.”

It would have authority over things like recruitment, choosing staff, curriculum and assessment, and managing the school’s budget adopted by the local board.

Sprouse said, “Our schools are still our schools. Risley and Heroes will still be very much part of Pueblo City Schools, District 60. It’s just that now we’re going to have the support from an external management partner that’s really going to provide focused attention in their highest areas of needs.”

Another provision of the order is that the local board has within 90 days of this order to choose a managing partner, a selection the state will have to approve. A contract would begin no later than July 2019 and the term of the contract must be at least four years.

The board said an action meeting will happen on December 11. In preparation for that meeting they will be working on what the selection process will be, how the community will be involved, and develop a timeline.

The district as a whole is facing increasing financial pressures with the District-wide Master Plan highlighting some $218 million worth of facilities needs that are deemed “mission critical.” These repairs are bad enough that they, “may directly affect a school’s ability to remain open or deliver their educational curriculum.”

The full price tag for the backlog of facility needs surpasses $784 million. So, the report authors also suggest constructing new schools to replace deficient facilities.

The failed Amendment 73 on this year’s ballot was for school funding. It would have changed Gallagher by setting a floor for how low property tax rates can adjust downward. It would have also levied a new tiered income tax on individuals earning more than $150,000 per year.  The estimated $1.6 billion in new revenue for schools would have meant about $26 million a year for D-60. The mill levy override hoped to generate another $6 million a year.

Together, the two tax issues may have put off the district’s pain a little longer, but neither won support at the ballot box. In fact, Pueblo voters rejected Amendment 73 by a roughly 2-to-one margin.

The trend of declining enrollment shows no signs of slowing. The total number of students in D-60 has dropped by more than 8 percent in the past 5 years. It’s projected to fall another 8 percent by the 2024-2025 school year.

A series of town-hall meetings have been scheduled for late November and December to inform parents and the community about the ongoing needs facing the district.

That schedule is as follows:

• November 28 at Centennial High School beginning at 6:00 p.m.
• November 29 at Central High School beginning at 6:00 p.m.
• December 18 at East High School beginning at 6:00 p.m.
• December 19 South High School beginning at 6:00 p.m.

RELATED: Bell and Cannon Game in danger as D60 considers closures

Caiti Blase

Caiti Blase

Multimedia Journalist
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