Note: This story has been updated to make clear that Dr. Terry Grier wants to investigate CEP further, not that he is calling right now for its contract with HISD to be canceled. If you read past the jump, you'll see that.
New Houston ISD Superintendent Terry Grier is reportedly ready to cancel the school district's contract with CEP (Community Education Partners), the private company that operates two controversial alternative schools in Houston.
And on Monday, a local chapter of LULAC will hold a press conference at 3 p.m. outside the HISD administration building, in support of ditching CEP. Many minority students are directed to CEP and some critics have termed it a dropout factory. Several other cities such as Dallas that initially had CEP contracts have dropped them.
Grier, who comes to HISD from San Diego and was named to the HISD top spot in August, polled the board and has enough votes to get rid of the company that now charges the district more than $19 million a year to house and teach students who have violated district policies, a source who spoke with us said.
The source says Grier and the board will be working on a severe deadline since HISD has only until December 15 to cancel under terms of the CEP contract. Reportedly, some members of the board have asked for more time to discuss the possible cancellation and how the district could implement its own alternative school and have asked for a two-month extension.
CEP would have to grant any such extension.
The extra time would also give board members the time to go over new
data collected by a team of researchers who went to the two Houston CEP
schools at Grier's direction.
Dr. Grier is out of town today. We are trying to reach him for comment and will update as soon as we hear from him.
Update: Dr. Grier called us to say he hasn't quite decided how he feels about CEP, but he definitely wants more time to study it. He also said that he hasn't polled school board members, "I don't lobby the board to count votes."
"I just found out, I guess it was two weeks ago,that we have a contract with them and that we must notify them by December 15 whether or not we're going to continue that contract for another year. I immediately started to ask a lot of questions. And it's taken some time to get the answers together," Grier said.
"For example I wanted to know exactly how much money we're spending. It's more than you think. It's not just the $19 million in the contract. We have to provide the transportation. And we have to provide the special education services to the kids. Let's say you're at a particular high school, say Bellaire High and if we give Bellaire High money for you on a per pupil basis and after you were there a short amount of time say you're just up there till November and then we send you to CEP, the money we gave you, [the home school] doesn't turn it back in to the central office. It stays there. so we're trying to get a handle on how much that is."
"So versus spending $19 million, you could literally be spending 20, 22, 24 million," Grier said, adding that his staff was running numbers this afternoon. He called back still later to say that between the first group of costs and the unrecovered monies from the home schools, his staff's best estimate was that it is actually costing HISD between $21 million and $24.5 million a year for the CEP program.
"And then my question is: how many kids do we serve? Well I heard we have about 645 there right now and that we usually serve a little less than 2,000. You think about that, that's a lot of money."
"It is an extraordinarily large amount of money and just being a businessman...that's why I'm looking at the money. That's an extraordinarily large amount of money to spend on educating 2,000 kids. That's more money per kid than you would spend on a private school education."
"And then the other question I'm asking is: What do the kids do to get there? I am not advocating putting dangerous kids back in our schools. But if we've had kids who go there because they've talked back to a teacher two times or three times, that's questionable.
"And I'm hearing other things that principals in the past have been told that they had a certain quota they had to meet in terms of sending kids to CEP.
"There's a lot things we're trying to find out and so just being new and trying to get my arms around it, my intent is to ask CEP if they're willing to extend that deadline from the 15th of December to mid February."
Grier said he's been told that prior to CEP when the district was running its own alternative program it was a disaster with problems reported every week. "People don't want to see that return." But if the district did decide to run its own program, there would be a lot of things to sort out: how would it be designed, where would it be housed, they'd have to hire teachers and staff, he said.
At the same time, however, Grier said, "I have worked in school districts that have done this in house and have had success with it in house."
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"I want more time to learn about the effectiveness of the program including the amount of money that we are actually spending on a per pupil basis and I want to look at other data about the program, what's used to measure the program's success, for example the graduation/dropout rate of the kids who are attending. The. reason kids are being assigned.there in the first place. And whether or not in this type of partnership the district has any ability to have any type of oversight over what's going on there.
"Again, I am not talking about returning dangerous kids to our schools," Grier stressed. "At the end of the day, all I can do is recommend."
Additional Update: We placed two calls to CEP CEO Randle Richardson at his Nashville office but were told he was out of the office today. We left messages with his assistants, asking for comment.
Another Additional Update:We hear now that LULAC has toned down its statement to say it supports Dr. Grier in his desire to audit what CEP has been doing.