Last night the Austin school board squelched, at least for now, any consideration of a partnership with Community Education Partners, the Nashville-based, for-profit operator of alternative schools that has two facilities in Houston. CEP would have operated an alternative center for students in the eighth and ninth grades who were falling behind in their classes.
"The Board of Trustees has put the brakes on further consideration of the CEP proposal, maybe not indefinitely, but for now," Andy Welch, AISD's communication director, tells Hair Balls.
Critics of CEP say the company operates dropout factories and charges too much in the bargain (See links throughout this item). In the presentation to the board, there was no mention of the problems cited in Houston, Dallas, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Asked why Austin administrators traveled to Florida to view the CEP operation there instead of taking the shorter trip to Houston, Welch offered that that would be a good question to ask Dr. Bergeron Harris, the AISD assistant superintendent for educational support services. Welch's office had tried to reach Harris today to answer our questions, but we never did receive a call from him.
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Although the lure of using federal stimulus dollars was before the board last night -- with the accompanying time pressure to get any new program underway in time for fall 2009 -- the school board members didn't like the idea of passing off their dropout problem to a private company without first determining why the district hasn't been more successful in combating the problem, Welch said.
Austin ISD has never contracted out any of its services, so this was a big step the board was being asked to make, Welch said. In addition, there will be a new district superintendent coming in July 1 and several board members wanted to know why this was being considered before her arrival, Welch said.
The district already has an alternative education center, used for behavioral problems. Welch said the CEP program would focus on kids failing in school, while acknowledging that there often is some "intermingling" of the two areas.
Asked if school board members were aware of the criticism that has been written about CEP in other cities, Welch said he thought "the board had other information," than just what was presented to it last night.