Proposal to boost EAI funds draws fire

March 18, 1994|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Sun Staff Writer

Claiming that Educational Alternatives Inc. receives preferential treatment from the city school system, critics denounced last night a proposal to boost funding for the company by $6.7 million.

That criticism, coming at the first public hearing on Superintendent Walter G. Amprey's proposed $634 million 1994-1995 operating budget, opened what is likely to be a contentious debate on school priorities.

City Council President Mary Pat Clarke and the Baltimore Teachers Union argued that giving EAI-run schools more money per pupil than almost all other city schools is unfair.

Union President Irene Dandridge said money earmarked for EAI schools could be much better spent by raising the $22,605 starting salary for city teachers, among Maryland's lowest.

"Cleary, this budget that you have before tonight you does not even come close to listening to those in the classroom," she said.

Increasing EAI's role and funding, she said, sends a "no-confidence" message to the staff. She called on the board to "leave money for limited, well conceived plans, educationally sound plans that will help students, not stockholders."

Ms. Clarke agreed, repeating her demand that all schools receive at least as much per pupil as those operated by the for-profit Minneapolis company. "Give us all the same resources at all schools and let us compete and show how we can beat EAI at its own game, and we'll all benefit from the experience," she said.

Dr. Amprey's budget would raise spending for day-to-day expenses by 2.7 percent and includes $2.8 million for 91 new positions to keep pace with an expected 2,100 increase in enrollment.

The plan would boost spending for outside contractors by 13.4 percent, from $85.1 million to $96.5 million; for school police by 10 percent, to $5.6 million; and for public relations and government relations by 17 percent, to about $2.3 million.

L But funding for EAI is likely to dominate the budget debate.

EAI now receives more than $27 million annually, or $5,918 per pupil, for managing the nine schools it took over in 1992; funding for those schools would rise by $2.5 million. Spending for two other schools where the company provides noninstructional services such as accounting and maintenance would increase by $4.2 million.

Most of the city's other 166 schools -- with notable exceptions, such as those with a large number of severely disabled students -- receive far less per pupil.

Spending for the schools run by EAI is based on contract provisions that it receive the "average full-time equivalent" for each student. That figure is determined by dividing the school system operating budget, including money for central administration, by the number of students.

Most of the money paid to EAI goes toward teachers' salaries and a 15 percent "administration fee" that reverts to school system headquarters.

Mrs. Clarke wants to apply the same funding formula to non-EAI schools. That would entail dividing the school system's operating budget by the number of students to arrive at a per-pupil amount. Every school would get that amount multiplied by the number of students in the school.

Each school would then pay teachers' salaries and, like EAI, a 15 percent fee to school headquarters for administrative costs.

School officials have said that changing the formula could require huge administrative spending cuts, the elimination of teaching positions and a funding reduction at schools with high per-pupil spending, such as those with mostly disabled students.

The school board is to vote on the proposed budget March 31. The City Council will adopt a budget in June after public hearings.

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