CEP Readies for a Contract Extension, More Kids from HISD

When Terry Grier came in as the new superintendent of Houston ISD in September 2009, many critics of the alternative schools operated by Community Education Partners were encouraged when he started questioning why the district was farming out some of its kids.

At board workshops, Grier made it clear he'd heard the criticism on CEP and that he wasn't that sold on the program of removing kids from their home schools and sending them to a private company's alternative facility. But his initial efforts to move away from it were met with resistance by several board members like Manuel Rodriguez who insisted CEP was doing a dandy job with students who had misbehaved or otherwise violated the district's regulations -- far better they should be at CEP than they should be thrown out in the streets.

It would cost too much for the district to set up its own program, they argued. And where would they put it?

Eventually, though, board members voted to cut back the mega-contract it had with CEP from $18 million a year to almost $12 million (trustees tend to refer to it in shorthand as the $11 million contract, but at $11,954,500, we think our estimate is more accurate). While certainly not as drastic an action as those of other school districts throughout the country who dropped CEP completely, it was a step. Last year, CEP consolidated into just one campus on Beechnut, vacating its Ferndale location.

But tonight the board is poised to vote to expand the number of spots at CEP saved for HISD students from 1,000 students to 1,125. It will be for the same amount -- as Board President Michael Lunceford sees it, a wise business decision -- and in return, the contract between CEP and HISD will be extended by three years through July 31, 2017.

The district was paying $65.30 a day extra this year for any kids who exceeded the 1,000 limit. "There has to be a place for students who disrupt the classroom," Lunceford said.

"It got a little tight this year," said Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers and a longtime supporter of CEP and its president, Randle Richardson. "You're ultimately going to need a place to put the bullies. And it gives the program stability."

At Monday's agenda meeting, Houston Chronicle reporter Ericka Mellon tweeted out that Grier said "the evaluations of CEP had been good." Asked what that was based on, HISD spokesman Jason Spencer said he knew Grier had asked for evaluations of CEP a while back, but didn't have the data in front of him. We will update once we know more.

Critics, of course, want to know what exactly was used to evaluate CEP's performance, particularly its academic performance through the last year. The program has been known for its high security, no homework, and fights in the hallways and classrooms. Kids and their families have dropped out or moved to other school districts to avoid going to CEP.

Also included in the CEP contract-extension proposal is a proposed modification that would allow the current agreement between HISD and EP to be assigned to a third party. Spencer said the board would still have the right to review and approve any proposed third party.

In somewhat related action, a policy that Grier tried to have put in place before that was defeated by the board has now been blessed by state law. Students found guilty of bullying can now be traded to other schools -- the hope being that in a new environment, they can be better people.

Fallon said she supports this, even though she was vehemently against the concept when Grier first raised it, saying that the other would have involved gang members but this is just bullies.

"Turf doesn't come into play with bullies," she said. "They're going to have to learn there are consequences."

Hair Balls, who isn't at all sure being a gang member precludes someone from being a bully or vice versa, will now get out a Venn Diagram and begin playing with it.

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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing