A group of Baltimore ministers complained yesterday that the city school system has left it in the dark about efforts to hire a private company to run nine city public schools starting this September.
"We have not been included in a process concerning the education of our children," said the Rev. Arnold Howard, vice president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and pastor of Enon Baptist Church.
"There is a sense of not being totally open and honest with the people and the community," he said.
Members of the alliance held a news conference at Trinity Baptist Church on Druid Hill Avenue to voice their "deep concern" about how the school system has gone about negotiating a contract with Education Alternatives Inc. (EAI) of Minneapolis. The influential group of ministers has had a long-standing concern with public education and other social issues.
City officials announced last month their intention to hire the Minneapolis company to oversee day-to-day operations at one middle school and eight elementary schools. The firm plans to bring in a new, custom-designed curriculum, put two teachers in each classroom and add computers and other high-tech equipment.
School officials originally had set today as the target date for reaching a final contract, but details of the contract were still being hammered out yesterday.
The Rev. William C. Calhoun Sr., pastor of Trinity Baptist and president of the alliance, urged school Superintendent Walter G. Amprey to hold off on signing any contract until he meets with community leaders to discuss a variety of issues.
He said that the ministers learned after the fact about the city's plans to hire EAI, and he said that there has not been enough discussion with teachers, parents and local leaders.
"The only thing that I have heard are the press accounts," Mr. Calhoun said. "We were not included."
The alliance also raised concerns about the idea of public education funds being diverted to a private company, warning that the community could have little control over the shape the program takes.
And the alliance said that, even if EAI's concept works, the nine schools would benefit to the exclusion of other schools.
Joining the alliance at yesterday's meeting were representatives of the Baptist Ministers Conference and the Baltimore City Teachers Association, which is not affiliated with the main teachers' union.
Nat Harrington, spokesman for the school department, rejected claims that the EAI contract is being rammed through without public discussion. He said that Dr. Amprey would have moved up plans to meet with the ministers had he known that the group intended to go public with its concerns.