As Baltimore officials consider expanding Education Alternatives Inc.'s role, six City Council members called last night for a halt to letting the company manage other schools before a formal evaluation of its work.
"I have very grave concerns about expanding an experiment when the jury is still out," said Councilman Lawrence Bell, D-4th. "We need to find out whether it has been effective before expanding it to other schools."
Council President Mary Pat Clarke and members Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd; John L. Cain, D-1st; Carl Stokes; D-2nd; and Melvin Stukes, D-6th, agreed the city should delay expanding EAI to other schools before an outside evaluation, scheduled to start next school year.
"Many people are saying EAI is not doing more with less money; they're saying EAI is doing less with more -- or at least no better, with much more money," said Mr. Stokes, chairman of the council's Education and Human Resources Committee.
The comments, reflecting growing opposition to widening school privatization, came at a raucous, five-hour meeting. More than 100 opponents of school privatization, many wearing "NO EAI" buttons, packed the council chambers in City Hall and spilled over into the hallway.
Critics -- parents, teachers and members of several city unions -- often interrupted the meeting with applause, jeers and shouts. They denounced a funding formula that gives EAI-run schools more moneythan almost any others in the city and suggested the school system had placed a company's profits above children's education. But they had to wait a long time to have their say.
A presentation by EAI and testimony by school Superintendent Walter G. Amprey consumed nearly two hours, and about half of the estimated 45 people who signed up to speak left before they got the chance.
EAI made its case with charts and diagrams, a film strip and a demonstration using three cups of water, aspirin, Alka Seltzer and "Tesseract" powder. The powder was to demonstrate "energy and lasting results" flowing from a "bottom-up" approach staff development.
John T. Golle, EAI chairman and chief executive, and other company officials said EAI has energized students and staff, cut red tape, improved efficiency and sent more dollars to the classrooms. He promised "significant" improvements in student test scores by the end of the experiment's third year in the nine "Tesseract" schools the company took over in 1992.
"First and foremost," said Mr. Golle, "we must ask ourselves, 'What is best for the children?'"
To opponents, the answer was clearly something other than EAI.
Tanya Carter, the parent of a student at Harlem Park Middle School, a "Tesseract" school, said unannounced visits to the school left her thoroughly unimpressed. She described chaotic classrooms and children watching soap operas. "There is no control in the classrooms, and the teachers I spoke with told me that they wouldn't recommend the school to any parent," she said.
Added Phillip A. Brown Jr., the parent of three city school students and PTA president at Cecil Elementary in East Baltimore: "The bottom line is that this company's using our kids for profit. . . . Let Dr. Amprey move on and take EAI with him."
Clarice Herbert, a teacher at Frederick Douglass High, the target of a threatened state takeover, said teachers and parents at her school have fought hard to keep EAI out. "Are we really worried about the children," she said, "or are we concerned with making someone else's pockets fat and selling out our children to the highest bidder?"
Dr. Amprey said criticism of the school system's privatization came as no surprise. But he attributed the resistance to change and a union-led effort to "preserve the status quo" while schools continue their decline. The company began running the nine "Tesseract" schools in 1992 after signing a five-year contract worth about $27 million in the first year. EAI since has signed five-year contracts giving it control of noninstructional services at three other city schools, and school system officials are considering allowing the company to take control of daily management at three more schools.
Dr. Amprey has said he is pleased with the company's progress.
But critics noted EAI schools get much more money. Budget documents show that the city is spending at least $8.5 million more than it would have spent this school year if EAI were operating no schools.
During EAI's first year here, it received more money to operate the schools but spent $2.5 million less on instruction than the school system had the previous year, according to a school system evaluation.