Clarke, teachers question budget adjustment for EAI

March 24, 1994|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writer

In the latest sparring over Baltimore's pioneering experiment in school privatization, Council President Mary Pat Clarke and the teachers' union yesterday challenged a budget adjustment that would give a Minneapolis company more money to run nine public schools.

Education Alternatives Inc.'s payment to the school system for administrative services will drop by $1.3 million under the adjustment, which was approved by 3-2 vote of the city's Board of Estimates. Mrs. Clarke and Acting Comptroller Shirley A. Williams voted against the adjustment.

Accompanying budget adjustments will refund EAI $109,637 based on pupil attendance rates and will cap Chapter 1 funds at $2 million. The federal program pays for remedial education for poor and disadvantaged schoolchildren.

EAI, which has a five-year contract worth about $26.7 million annually, promises to improve student performance with a custom-designed curriculum, an array of high-tech equipment and a teacher and intern in every classroom.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who controls three votes on the board, described the adjustments as routine. He said he was reluctant to discuss the issue at length because the teachers' union has sued the city over the EAI contract.

Lorretta Johnson, co-president of the 8,500-member Baltimore Teachers Union, called the adjustments another "bailout" of EAI. "We believe this board should be looking at the company's record," she said.

The budget modification created confusion yesterday, as union leaders, EAI's president and school officials offered different explanations and widely varying statistics on how much money it would generate for the company.

David A. Bennett, president of the company that is in its second year of running the nine Tesseract schools, said the modification was outlined in the original contract. EAI was supposed to pay the school system 12.5 percent of its per pupil allowance for administrative expenses in the first year and 7.5 percent thereafter, he said.

Union officials said an audit of EAI shows it returned $3.9 million to the school system for administrative costs, about 15 percent of its total funding.

By cutting its overhead, EAI would gain about $2 million, said union spokeswoman Linda D. Prudente. But, she said, the cap on Chapter 1 funds would reduce company funding by about $1.7 million.

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