Terry Grier Can't Find A Workable Alternative to CEP

Categories: Education
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Photo by Margaret Downing
CEP survives another day, even under Grier
There will be trims. There will be millions of dollars in savings. There will be new initiatives and new monitoring, but the bottom line is:

Community Education Partners will continue to operate its two alternative schools in Houston and the Houston Independent School District will continue to send troubled and in-trouble kids there.

Reversing position after months of discussion, HISD Superintendent Terry Grier told trustees today that he no longer wants them to cut the CEP contract, but keep it going, albeit with some changes.

The turnabout comes before the district has ever received its long-delayed assessment of CEP from a Texas A&M professor.

Instead of the 1,600 student spots set aside now, that'll be reduced to 1,200 (which just happens to be about the number of spots CEP provided this school year). The target maximum will be reduced another 100 in 2011-12 and another in 2012-13.

The contract amount will go from $18,290,221 in 2009-10 to about $13.7 million in the next school year for a savings of more than $4.5 million -- not including the cost of special education and transportation. The district is setting aside money to pay extra if it uses more than the maximum cap for those years.

Grier said it wouldn't work for the district to try to start an in-house alternative program before the start of next year, and Chief Financial Officer Melinda Garrett said there wouldn't be any cost advantage in going with the Harris County Department of Education.

Grier was never able to muster enough board votes to support his position that there had to be a less expensive way to handle alternative education in the district. From the start he couched his approach in terms of financial responsibility, going out of his way to insist that he wasn't commenting on the worth of the program -- although he did repeatedly say in other meetings that he wasn't sure all the kids sent to CEP should be there and he reported that a lot of principals didn't like CEP.

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Photo courtesy HISD
The HISD school board all together -- must not be a board-agenda meeting

Today's board agenda meeting was sparsely attended. Of the nine board members only five -- Larry Marshall, Anna Eastman, Greg Meyers, Manuel Rodriguez and Paula Harris -- attended even part of the four-hour marathon (and only four were there for the CEP discussion).

Asked after the meeting what the worth was of having a meeting on next year's school budget (to be finalized in June) and the new strategic plan when only two members (Meyers and Marshall) stayed the course for it (although Eastman was just about 15 minutes shy of making it through), board president Meyers said they have to go through what's planned on the agenda and that board members also have day jobs they have to attend to. (That's Diana Davila, Carol Galloway, Michael Lunceford and Harvin Moore. To be fair, with the exception of Galloway who has been sick, the rest are usually in attendance.)

If trustees have questions about anything they missed, Meyers said, they can view a tape of the meeting or talk with Michele Pola, Grier's chief of staff.

Rodriguez continued his ringing endorsement of CEP. Marshall, a former paid consultant for CEP and a longtime supporter of it, said exit interviews should be conducted of CEP students and there might be some surprises in what those kids have to say. (He also said "I have difficulty taking the Houston Press as a reliable news source" -- we assume this had to do with our previous coverage of CEP).

Only Eastman spoke up, saying she'd heard a lot of defense of CEP and she wanted to speak for the kids and parents who've talked to her over the years, who feel that going to CEP was the first step in children becoming involved in the juvenile justice system.

"I just want to make sure we look at the voice of people and what appens to kids lives. These are children we are charged with serving. It's a dollars thing and it's an integrity thing," she said.

She told Grier that: "I appreciate you have taken on what seems to be a sacred cow for years."

Grier also said one of the new contractural agreements with CEP is a better tracking system by CEP of what happens when students leave its schools and don't return to HISD. "We have a large number of students who show up as 'other.' It's easy to guess that they've dropped out," Grier said, but there's no way of knowing for sure.

He also said CEP hadn't been making its contract goal of 85 percent attendance; students there haven't been exceeding the 75 percent level. He said HISD would be working with CEP to improve this.

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