Needed: an audit of Tesseract

January 19, 1994

It would be a shame if Baltimore's bold experiment in contracting public education to a private company were to be scuttled in a disagreement over enrollment figures. That is why the city should engage an auditor independent of both the Department of Education and Education Alternatives Inc. to determine who owes whom -- and what amount.

At stake is about $500,000 which Superintendent Walter Amprey says the city overpaid EAI, based on overstated enrollment figures. That's not a huge amount in view of the $27 million-a-year contract held by EAI to manage nine schools. But the company had slim profits last year, and because it is publicly held and doing most of its business in Baltimore, its financial health is unusually sensitive to "bad news."

Dr. Amprey said last week that the $500,000 overpayment was discovered in a state audit. But the state audit is based on enrollment figures -- and projections -- provided by the city Department of Education.

This is not an exact science, as any Baltimore principal can attest. It is complicated by the fact that students in Baltimore are highly mobile, moving in and out of school and from school to school, sometimes several times a year.

EAI's chairman and chief executive officer, John T. Golle, contends that the city relied too heavily on average daily attendance instead of overall enrollment as reflected in roll-book records. In other words, EAI counted noses. That should be the only criterion: How many students were actually in the nine Tesseract schools during the period in contention?

City Councilman Anthony Ambridge said Friday that one Harlem Park Middle School student was reported present 26 days last fall while he was in jail. His 13-year-old brother was never reported present last year, according to Mr. Ambridge, although he was promoted from the eighth to the ninth grade. Mr. Ambridge doesn't know if EAI was paid for these students, but these and other allegations (all too familiar in a school system whose record-keeping has been shabby for at least two decades) warrant an objective outside audit.

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