After spending five years and $5 million for a private company to educate troubled kids, Pasadena Independent School District plans to call it quits with Community Education Partners.
The planned withdrawal from CEP by the 44,000-student Pasadena district follows a similar decision made last year by the Dallas school district to drop the for-profit alternative education chain. Based in Nashville, CEP launched its business in Houston in 1995 and has spread to other cities, including Philadelphia, Atlanta and Orlando.
Pasadena school officials don't plan to renew the $1 million yearly contract. Instead, the district intends to create its own alternative education program for the approximately 200 students sent to CEP each year. The district recently paid $3.5 million for a vacant Albertson's store on Beltway 8 at Pasadena Boulevard where it plans to house the new program.
"It's kinda like sometimes parents make a decision not to utilize day care for their children but stay home with them instead," says Rick Schneider, PISD superintendent. "We think we can do it better." PISD spokesperson Kirk Lewis says the district believes the costs for educating the students will be about the same as when the district contracted out with CEP.
Schneider emphasizes that PISD isn't leaving CEP because of "performance problems" or because of the "logistical differences" they've experienced. "We'd just like to have our kids back home," he says.
But Pasadena has experienced problems with CEP. The Houston Press had reported that some Pasadena students' final exams were not graded and report cards weren't mailed (see "Learning Curve," by Wendy Grossman, October 5, 2000). Later, there were complaints that CEP hadn't administered TAAS tests correctly, that some students were given tests for the wrong grade level and that a few exams were missing (see "Learning to Survive (at) CEP," by Margaret Downing and Wendy Grossman, May 31, 2001).
Plus, Schneider says that some kids the district sent to CEP didn't show up for ten or 15 days at the alternative school, and CEP didn't notify the district that the children were truant.
"I don't know what the problem was," Schneider says. "We got together with CEP and said, 'Now look, we've gotta be sure; if they don't show up on a timely basis, let us know.' "
In the fall of 2001, Pasadena placed a full-time secretary at CEP to keep track of student grade records, says Steve Laymon, PISD associate superintendent for campus development. Last August, the district hired another part-time secretary and a part-time administrator to be on campus and work as a district liaison with the school, Laymon says.
Lewis says CEP's academic program isn't as "challenging" or "rigorous" as the district wants it to be and doesn't focus on preparing the students for state-required tests and eventual graduation.
"We feel like the curriculum needs to be stronger," Lewis says. "The program that CEP offered was a little bit more limiting. It was not as in-depth as we wanted it to be and feel like it needs to be for those students."
The curriculum will be closer to the one taught in the students' home classroom, Laymon says. Most of the teachers will have been trained in PISD and will have taught in the district, so they will use the same district instructional timelines, strategies and teaching techniques -- Laymon says that should make them better prepared to return to their home campus. "Academically, they will be right on target," he says.
Plans for the new program add emphasis on counseling and psychological services to improve social skills and integrate kids back into the classroom. "We don't want to lose those students -- just because they've done something that caused us to have to discipline them, we don't want to give up on them," Lewis says.
Last year, Dallas Independent School District superintendent Mike Moses decided against renewing its one-year, $6 million contract with CEP. As part of DISD's agreement with the company, the district had to pay $10 million to purchase CEP's building.
The latest plans by a district to drop CEP appeared to catch the company off-guard.
Gordon Anderson, CEP's senior vice president of operations, was asked for a response to Pasadena's plans to end the contract. "That's not true," he said. "I haven't heard that at all."
He told the Press to speak with the school district.
When told that the information came from the district's superintendent, Anderson said simply, "He hasn't told me that. That kinda surprises me." Anderson told the Press that he was in a meeting in Nashville and would investigate the matter when he returned to Texas.
Schneider later called the Press to explain that he had not personally notified Anderson, but that Anderson had been informed that the district was "studying and planning" to open its own alternative education program.
"We're headed that direction," Schneider says.
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The superintendent, who lauded the work of CEP, wanted to be clear that the plans hinge on district finances and other uncertainties in the future. "I wouldn't want CEP to be planning to cut us loose in 2005 if we truly aren't at the point," Schneider says.
CEP chief operating officer Randle Richardson did not respond to a request for comment.
Despite the fact that some other districts are abandoning CEP, Houston Independent School District will continue its $15 million contract with CEP. "The district feels that at this point, the service being provided by CEP is satisfactory," says HISD spokesperson Heather Browne.
She says the Houston district has no concerns about other school systems leaving. "The only concern we have is the quality of service that is being offered to our students," she says.