By Chris Lane
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Community Education Partners is, as loyal readers of the Houston Press know, the company that gets $17 million a year from the Houston school district to run schools for troubled students.
There have been, it's safe to say, complaints about how the company runs its schools. CEP has never taken kindly to criticism, and now — with its HISD contract renewal coming up — the company is getting even more aggressive. CEP has filed suit against Robert Kimball, one of its most vocal critics.
A few years ago, Kimball filed open-records requests with HISD and conducted a study of the results; several times since he has publicly declared CEP to be "a dropout factory."
In the rough-and-tumble of debate over public education, that doesn't seem to be particularly over the top. But it's been enough to get CEP to file suit against the college professor, claiming "business disparagement" and "tortious interference with prospective business relations."
In other words, CEP is suing because Kimball has called it bad names and that might interfere with it getting further lucrative contracts from HISD and other school districts across the country.
Kimball, the suit says, "has embarked on a smear campaign aimed at enhancing his reputation in the public education community at CEP's expense."
The suit says CEP "has suffered actual loss and damage to its business relationship with HISD," but doesn't elaborate. Gregory Jones, the attorney who filed the suit on behalf of CEP, did not return phone calls.
CEP claims the numbers in Kimball's study are wrong. Kimball traced the whereabouts of 180 students registered at CEP in early 2004 and found that within two years, only one percent had graduated and 90 percent were no longer students within HISD.
CEP says its own study followed 200 students registered in their program at approximately the same period and found that as of January 2007, 35 percent of the students were enrolled in HISD, 42 percent were enrolled in school elsewhere in Texas or the United States and 5 percent had graduated. The remainder had left the country or "withdrew," in CEP's term.
"These same 200 students changed schools 507 times from 2004 through October 2006 — a figure that highlights the transient nature of this population of students, a fact that [Kimball] completely ignored in formulating his 'study,'" CEP's suit says.
Oooh — they put "study" in quotes! Maybe Kimball should sue!
The suit doesn't specify any monetary damages it seeks, beyond the implied cost of making Kimball hire an attorney.
Will it succeed in shutting up CEP's most vociferous critic? Quite possibly — Kimball refused to comment on any aspect of the suit.