EAI's work in schools gets grade of 'incomplete'

January 18, 1994|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Staff Writer

Baltimore's "Tesseract" school privatization has laid the groundwork for resuscitating ailing schools, but it's too early to tell whether the experiment is improving classroom performance, the city school system said yesterday.

A 48-page evaluation released by the school system concludes Education Alternatives Inc. has dramatically improved the physical appearance of schools and grounds, increased parental involvement and tailored computerized instruction for each student.

The report also credited the for-profit Minneapolis firm with increasing parental involvement, operating the nine Tesseract schools more efficiently, eliminating bureaucratic red tape and getting supplies to schools faster.

But the report says, it would be premature to try to assess Tesseract's impact on performance or attendance at the nine schools which have about 4,800 students.

The report noted that the company did not have computers and accompanying technology in place until halfway through the 1992 school year, the company's first of a five-year contract, and spent much of the school year training staff in its instruction methods.

Superintendent Walter G. Amprey acknowledged that the city and EAI must work out kinks in the experiment but showered EAI and Tesseract with praise.

"Overall, we are pleased with the partnership we have . . . and we think we're moving in the right direction," Dr. Amprey said.

"We don't think any of the problems which we have pointed out are insurmountable."

While agreeing with the report's assertion that linking Tesseract to performance or attendance would be premature, he said, "I think [the nine schools] are doing better. One thing's for sure: They're not doing worse."

The superintendent, however, expressed concern about EAI's spending about $1.4 million less on classroom instruction than the city system would have spent had it continued running the nine schools.

EAI has argued that it spent money more efficiently and therefore could cut classroom spending without hurting education. But Dr. Amprey said he is not convinced.

The company received $26.7 million during the first year of its five-year contract, approved in July 1992. Of that, $13.5 million went toward regular instruction, com

pared with $14.9 million the city had expected to be spent on instruction.

The evaluation also concluded that EAI owes the city about $500,000, which the company received after contending that the school system had greatly underestimated student enrollment at the nine schools.

Dr. Amprey said he agreed to give EAI the money early in the 1992-93 school year based on its contention on condition that the money be returned if a state audit confirmed the city's original figures.

Under a provision of the company's contract, EAI receives an average of $2,000 for each uncounted student.

But a state audit has since found that the city's original numbers were on target, leading the city to conclude EAI owes it roughly $500,000, the evaluation said.

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