City gives EAI contract for 12th school

March 10, 1994|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writer

Amid an emotional debate over Baltimore's bold experiment in school privatization, the city awarded another contract yesterday to the Minneapolis company that manages 11 public schools.

Superintendent Walter G. Amprey touted the agreement, which gives Education Alternatives Inc. control of noninstructional services at William H. Lemmel Middle School as another step in his plan to radically restructure the management of public schools.

"Change does not come easily, but we certainly know that we cannot continue what we were doing in the past," Dr. Amprey told the city's Board of Estimates.

The five-member board voted 3-1, with Acting Comptroller Shirley A. Williams abstaining, to let EAI handle accounting, maintenance, food and other services at the 1,400-student school on Dukeland Street in West Baltimore.

Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who chairs the board, strongly objected to the deal.

In voting against the five-year contract, she repeated her demand that other city schools receive as much money per student as those run by EAI. And she questioned why the agreement excludes a team of parents, teachers and community members from budgetary decisions -- in contrast to similar contracts at two other schools.

"I think, with all due respect, Dr. Amprey, the emperor's clothes are getting kind of old," Mrs. Clarke said. "I don't see the results."

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said he was satisfied with EAI and the city's venture in privatization. "I think so far we've seen some indications of success," he said. "Clearly, the jury is still out, but it's important for us to keep that experiment going."

The contract is an endorsement of EAI, which has come under criticism recently for unorthodox accounting practices and its inability to expand into public education in other cities.

EAI, which runs those schools under a five-year contract worth about $26.7 million annually, also took over in December the noninstructional services at City College and Robert W. Coleman Elementary.

Dr. Amprey said the Lemmel agreement was an important move in his plan to grant all 177 public schools more autonomy from the central headquarters.

Mrs. Clarke said approving the new contract amid growing skepticism about EAI on Wall Street -- where the stock has fallen from nearly $50 a share in November to $15.50 yesterday -- caused her "grave concern." Baltimore should not bolster a company that is losing its credibility, she said.

Other council members expressed concern about per-pupil spending in EAI schools. "I believe we can do the same thing at other schools," said Councilman Lawrence A. Bell, a 4th District Democrat who showed up for the vote.

Councilman Martin O'Malley, a 3rd District Democrat, said, "I only have a four-year term, so my time for patience is growing thin."

Reacting to the criticism, Mr. Schmoke said, "The council president is clearly wrong. This company is making significant headway. She seems to want to be having it both ways -- she's against EAI but wants all the schools to do it."

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