Teachers' Union Misguided Lawsuit

December 21, 1993

A year and a half after Baltimore City launched its bold experiment in school privatization -- and three months after a survey found satisfaction among the teachers in the program -- the Baltimore Teachers Union has challenged the legality of the city contract with a Minneapolis company operating the 11 "Tesseract" schools.

The BTU's timing and its legal argument are suspect. In contending that the contract with Education Alternatives Inc. violates charter requirements that the city maintain control of public schools, the union ignores hundreds of contracts the schools have with other profit-making companies. EAI is a contractor like any other. The schools have the right to cancel EAI's contract at any time. They are not ceding authority.

What we suspect motivates the BTU is job insecurity. From the beginning, when the company replaced school aides represented by the union with college-educated assistants, the BTU has been complaining, if not sabotaging. The long-range implications of privatization are clear: When will the privatizers begin importing non-union teachers?

But EAI isn't blameless, either. "Everyone knows the [Tesseract] schools are working," John T. Golle, EAI chairman, said in responding to the suit. Everyone knows nothing of the kind. The Tesseract schools are midway through their second year of operation with no thorough evaluation independent of the school system and the contractor. If this is what Irene Dandridge, co-president of the BTU, means when she complains of Tesseract's "lack of accountability," she is right.

For now, though, the union and contractor are going to have to learn to live together. They have 3 1/2 years to coexist in the Tesseract schools, and no education program can be a success when teachers are squabbling with management. A good start toward peace would be for the city teachers' union to withdraw its lawsuit.

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