Teachers union asks for federal EAI investigation

March 31, 1994|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Sun Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- A national teachers union asked the Clinton administration yesterday to investigate whether Education Alternatives Inc. violated federal law by cutting services for disabled and poor students at Baltimore's "Tesseract" schools.

The requests from the 850,000-member American Federation of Teachers came in letters to the U.S. Department of Education. They coincided with a union report suggesting that the Minneapolis company, which operates nine city schools, had not kept its promise to provide better education for less money.

The report, based primarily on Baltimore school system statistics, pointed to falling test scores and bigger classes, and noted that the "Tesseract" schools receive more money per pupil than most others in the city.

"EAI led Baltimore to believe that, with its deep pockets and corporate largess, it would do more for less," said Greg Humphrey, executive assistant to the AFT president. "Promises were made . . . but performance has fallen far short."

Company and city schools officials dismissed the union actions as a bid to prevent the spread of privatization and to protect union jobs.

"You've seen the games at carnivals where little heads pop out of the holes and you hit them with a rubber mallet," said EAI President David Bennett. "Well, the union is the mallet, and they're desperately trying to keep that head from popping up to keep us from spreading."

In a statement, the school system accused the AFT, the parent union of the Baltimore Teachers Union, of mounting a "campaign of misinformation" that ignores "substantial progress" at the nine schools during this school year.

Criticism of EAI's handling of special education focused mainly on Harlem Park Middle School, one of the "Tesseract" schools the company took over in 1992. There, the union charged, the company "dismantled" programs for about 400 special education students during the 1992-1993 school year, while reducing the number of special education teachers from 24 to 11.

Without completing required "individual education plans," the company routinely moved special education students to regular classes, sometimes over the objections of parents, the union said.

Last school year, Harlem Park Middle had the worst record for complying with special education requirements. Violations there exceeded the total number of cases at the other 176 city schools.

School officials found that Harlem Park students were entitled to 136,893 hours of "compensatory services" -- required to make up for services the company had failed to provide -- compared with 530 hours the previous school year.

To compensate for the problem, EAI offered programs last summer but few students participated.

Officials for EAI and the city schools acknowledge lapses at Harlem Park. But, they say, the company has worked to correct deficiencies and the West Baltimore school now complies with regulations.

Echoing Superintendent Walter G. Amprey and other educators, company officials say too many children unnecessarily land in special education. "We're trying to get the children acclimated so they can be successful in the real world," said Mae E. Gaskins, EAI vice president.

In its other request for a federal investigation, the union contended EAI had not accounted for some $400,000 in federal funds earmarked for remedial programs for poor students. EAI received $3.7 million in Chapter 1 money, but spent $3.3 million on the programs, the report said.

EAI and school system officials, said that the company spent about $3.5 million and that the remaining money would go toward Chapter 1 programs this school year. Such carry-overs are common in the city and do not violate federal laws, school officials said.

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