Probe of EAI sought

January 04, 1994|By Gary Gately and Joan Jacobson | Gary Gately and Joan Jacobson,Staff Writers

A city councilman called yesterday for an investigation into claims that the private company running nine Baltimore schools had improperly received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the city based on inflated student enrollment figures.

Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, in a one-page letter to Council President Mary Pat Clarke, requested an investigation into Education Alternatives Inc., the Minneapolis company that began running the "Tesseract" schools last year.

Mr. Ambridge provided no documentation to support his claims that at one school, the company had received payment last year for at least 120 students who never attended.

Under its five-year contract, EAI received $5,549 per pupil -- the -- citywide average -- at the nine Tesseract schools last school year.

Mr. Ambridge, a 2nd District Democrat, said he based his conclusion on information from several school system sources.

"There's some legitimate questions that need to be answered about the financing for these schools and whether this company is pulling the wool over this city's eyes," he said.

School Superintendent Walter G. Amprey and John T. Golle, EAI's chairman and chief executive officer, both called the claim groundless.

"I don't know where this is coming from," Dr. Amprey said. "I can only tell you that the question is centered around a claim that EAI changed enrollment numbers. But there's nothing that substantiates that at all."

He noted that the state Department of Education routinely audits city enrollment figures and that state officials are now completing such an audit for last school year.

One school system employee said that last school year, Harlem Park Middle School had received payment, based on a per-pupil funding formula, for at least 50 students who apparently never attended the school.

The employee, who requested anonymity, recalled writing memos about the apparent discrepancy and calling on school system employees to more closely monitor enrollment but was repeatedly told by superiors: "Hands off the Tesseract schools unless they ask for our services."

After receiving Mr. Ambridge's letter, Ms. Clarke said: "I'd be happy to participate with the Education Committee of the council and with the state and city in reviewing the records."

She said she's also concerned about Mr. Ambridge's charge that some students who missed most school days were promoted to higher grades.

A school system source also supported a claim in Mr. Ambridge's letter that some sixth-graders at Harlem Park had been promoted to ninth grade, within a matter of months, even though they had attended as little as two days in a school year.

Irene Dandridge, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, said she was not surprised by charges that the city may have paid EAI too much money.

"The teachers, at least at Harlem Park [Middle School], tell us they do not take attendance in the normal fashion and . . . they don't see how they [EAI] can determine either attendance or the size of the student body."

EAI was to receive $26.7 million last school year -- $6.1 million more than the amount allotted for operation of the nine schools the previous year.

Of the additional $6.1 million, $3.4 million was to immediately revert to the city for costs unrelated to direct operation of schools, and $2.7 million was earmarked for instructional interns, computers and technology and staff development, according to the contract.

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