Takeover of 2 schools intrigues mayor Private company's plan still in early stages

no schools chosen

May 07, 1991|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Evening Sun Staff

A private company's plan to run two Baltimore public elementary schools is still in its early stages, school department officials say, but it already has drawn interest from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

The proposal, outlined by Schmoke in a discussion with reporters yesterday, is the brainchild of Minnesota-based Education Alternatives Inc., an independent corporation originally set up by Control Data Corp.

In March, a team from the school system visited Minnesota to get further information about the company's concept, with the Abell Foundation paying for the trip.

Should the city agree to the proposal, the company in September would take over daily operations of two still-to-be-specified schools.

John Golle, the company chairman, already has spoken with Schmoke and with school system and union officials, according to the mayor -- and has received a favorable hearing.

"I'd like to see the specifics of it," said Schmoke. In general, the mayor added, the company's ideas appear to coincide with the city's move toward giving more authority to individual schools.

The two schools have not been chosen, but the corporation's chairman "said he will take the worst of the worst," said Schmoke.

Education Alternatives grew out of educational research work done by Control Data, which eventually decided to focus on its core computer business and spun off the education company as a private entity.

The company calls its concept "Tesseract Schools," a term from the children's book A Wrinkle In Time. The term refers to a fantastic "corridor for traveling to exciting new worlds," according to a company fact sheet.

The firm's elementary school curriculum calls for a 12-to-1 student-teacher ratio in classrooms, computer-assisted learning, an emphasis on the basics, maximum parental involvement, day and summer school programs that coincide with parents' work schedules, and a personal education plan for each student.

The company set up private schools in Minnesota and Arizona, and has received a contract to set up one of its schools in Dade County, Fla., according to an Abell Foundation source.

Originally, Education Alternatives had floated the idea of taking over daily operations at four schools in Baltimore, Schmoke said yesterday. But he said he "thought it was too ambitious to do four schools," and suggested it be scaled back to two.

Schmoke said the concept is in line with other types of innovative school management already in place.

He cited the Baltimore School for the Arts, the health-careers curriculum at Dunbar Senior High School and the Academy of Finance at Lake Clifton-Eastern Senior High School.

But the mayor, while interested in the concept as an experiment, was wary about widespread private operation of the city's schools.

"We'll take a look at it," he said of the group's limited proposal. "But I don't think, in principle, we should move toward privatizing the entire school system."

Although a few privately run schools could be a useful addition to the system, said the mayor, in general the city needs "to get more money, to get our funding equalized so that we can simply do the basics for our system."

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