Amprey wants EAI to run more schools

May 06, 1994|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Sun Staff Writer Rick Green of the Hartford Courant contributed to this article.

An article yesterday stated incorrectly that Education Alternatives Inc. had paid for more than one out-of-town trip by city schools Superintendent Walter G. Amprey to testify about Baltimore's school privatization experiment. In fact, Dr. Amprey said that the company paid for a trip this week to Hartford, Conn., but no others.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Baltimore Superintendent Walter G. Amprey yesterday launched his strongest public attack yet against critics of the city's school-privatization venture and said he hopes to expand Education Alternatives Inc.'s role to at least four more city schools.

At a hastily called news conference, Dr. Amprey confirmed that the city is seriously considering turning over daily management of Patterson High and three West Baltimore elementary schools to the for-profit company.

The city would need approval from the state to let EAI manage Patterson, one of two targets of a new measure allowing state intervention in failing schools.

The four schools would bring to 16 the number run by EAI -- the original nine "Tesseract" schools and three others where it has since taken on noninstructional services -- and give the company control of millions more dollars in city money.

Dr. Amprey's announcement came a day after he flew to Hartford, Conn., to testify before the City Council there about Baltimore's experiment in privatization.

It marked his latest in a series of trips to other cities paid for, he said, by EAI.

Dr. Amprey went to Hartford, which is considering letting EAI manage all its schools, to voice support for the company and counter what he describes as a campaign of "distortions and lies" waged by the nation's two largest teachers' unions.

"I'm prepared to do battle with anyone or any group that continues to keep us stuck and paralyzed in not making a difference for our youngsters," said the superintendent, in his third year at the helm. "It's time to move. A society is judged based on how it treats its children, and we're not doing well.

"I've had added incentive [to testify in favor of EAI] recently, though, because I've been reading about in other cities lies and distortions about what's happening in Baltimore -- quotes from me, things that I've been saying at meetings I never attended, discussions that have gone on with me and the mayor and EAI, lies about what teachers were paid, test scores, when the tests haven't been administered."

He took issue with a Hartford Courant account of his testimony, which appeared in yesterday's editions of The Sun, in which he was quoted as saying he would like to see EAI run all of Baltimore's public schools, if he could.

Hartford, where Superintendent T. Josiah Haig is being forced out in June, is considering giving EAI control of its entire 32-school district and its $171 million annual budget. The proposal is subject to the approval of the City Council and the school board -- and, according to the city's top lawyer, it must also be put out for bid to allow an opportunity for competing firms.

Dr. Amprey said his comments in Hartford had been "misrepresented" and "taken out of context."

But, in fact, while being questioned by a Hartford City Councilman, he said, "I would have EAI managing my entire schools [district] if I had the ability to do that."

Asked by the councilman why Baltimore had not given EAI control of more schools from the beginning of the experiment in 1992, Dr. Amprey replied: "Nine was all I could get at the beginning. If I could have done it with a systemwide approach, it would have been easier. . . . I asked for nine; I wished I asked for 178."

But Dr. Amprey said yesterday that he had also repeatedly told the council that he hoped to eventually "kick EAI out of town" -- after the company sets an example for other schools, teaching them how to run more effectively and efficiently.

The superintendent is moving forward with the possible EAI expansion despite mounting opposition from critics who call privatization an unproven experiment.

Critics also say EAI-run schools enjoy an unfair advantage because they receive much more money per-pupil.

Irene Dandridge, the Baltimore Teachers Union president, reacted angrily yesterday to Dr. Amprey's counteroffensive.

"He is just upset with the union because he blames us for EAI not expanding around the country," Ms. Dandridge said.

She also criticized the superintendent for lobbying on behalf of EAI in other cities.

"I question the propriety of the superintendent of schools in Baltimore City flying around the country trying to sell EAI to other cities," she said. "I think there's plenty for him to do in Baltimore. It really doesn't look good."

Ms. Dandridge, echoing some teachers and city lawmakers, said EAI has been "forced" on Lemmel Middle School, which signed a contract with the company in March, despite widespread opposition from teachers.

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