BUILD opposes expanding privatization of schools Tesseract value not proved, critics say BALTIMORE CITY

June 25, 1993|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Staff Writer

Two vocal groups representing the clergy and community activists yesterday opposed immediate expansion of Baltimore's "Tesseract" experiment in school privatization, a move supported last week by school Superintendent Walter G. Amprey.

"We are opposed to the privatization of public schools, it's as simple as that," said the Rev. William C. Calhoun, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and member of Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development, a church-based coalition that has made education a top priority.

Said the Rev. Arnold Howard, co-chairman of BUILD: "We will not be partners in divesting pieces of the public school system onto the private market."

Lack of data

At a joint news conference outside Booker T. Washington Middle School in the Upton area, the two organizations, citing a lack of data on attendance, test scores and other measures of school performance, said that expansion of the Tesseract project is premature.

Last September, the school system put nine schools in the hands of Education Alteratives Inc., a Minneapolis company, under a five-year-contract worth $26.7 million in its first year. The company promised classroom innovations, smaller student-instructor ratios and a wealth of computers and other technology.

The program was phased in throughout the last school year and takes full effect this September.

Last week, Dr. Amprey praised the company's first year and confirmed that, if there is public support, Education Alternatives would be willing to add more schools this September. The company said it is looking at eight more elementaries, two

middle schools and one high school.

Delay in expansion urged

But Mr. Howard, demanding a detailed evaluation before any more schools are added, urged that expansion be put off for two to three years.

He said that the company itself admitted it got a late start last year and downplayed expectations of immediate improvements XTC in student achievement.

"Now, all of a sudden, they want to expand to 11 more schools, including a high school," Mr. Howard said. "On what basis? Cleaner school buildings? We could have hired more custodians at a much lower price tag."

Mr. Howard said his group is not saying the program should be scaled back and concedes that it could result in some progress. "But at this point, we have not seen any data . . . to prove this program should go forward."

Though the program's supporters cite anecdotal evidence of improvements, "you can't develop a school system based on people's feelings," he said.

The Tesseract debate highlights a long-standing rift between BUILD and the superintendent, Mr. Howard said.

The group, which was an important backer of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke early in his mayoral career, has long supported the city public schools, Mr. Howard said.

He cited BUILD's role in the Commonwealth program, a collaboration between community groups and local business to promote good attendance, and jobs and college loans for city school graduates.

But the relationship has deteriorated to the point where there is no partnership between the school system and BUILD, Mr. Howard said.

He criticized Dr. Amprey for failing to consult with BUILD and others about Tesseract before making decisions affecting thousands of city students.

"There should have been parent-community participation," said Mr. Howard. "Running up red flags and seeing the kind of response is not the way to do business."

Dr. Amprey responded by saying that he has seen enough evidence of Tesseract's effectiveness to support expansion of the program.

He asked: "If it's doing as well as we're all saying, why wouldn't we try to save as many kids as possible? If it's not injurious, what's the problem?"

The superintendent also disputed that he and the clergy who make up BUILD are not getting along.

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