Hartford school officials to vote on privatization

July 14, 1994|By The Hartford Courant

HARTFORD, Conn. -- Despite criticism, supporters and opponents of privatization say there still is a good chance the Board of Education could vote tonight to hire Education Alternatives Inc. to run Hartford's schools, but in a more restricted capacity than the company had sought.

[EAI has been under criticism in Baltimore for the way it is running 12 city schools.]

A majority of the nine-member Hartford board appeared ready to support privatization during a special meeting last night.

A crowd of school employees and parents packed the meeting room. Outside, some parents watched the proceedings on a closed-circuit television and fanned away the stifling heat with folded newspapers.

"Maybe I'm biased, but I think EAI is a big con," said Wilma Cruz, a mother of two children in Hartford elementary schools. "They want control of all the money, and they want it up front. Come on."

The crowd was by far anti-EAI. When city Purchasing Agent Nancy Haynes opened the meeting by announcing the committee's decision to reject all the privatization proposals, a cheer went up in the room.

At the meeting, top city officials who sat on a committee that reviewed those proposals told the board that the core parts of what EAI offered in its school management plan are unreasonable or illegal.

"He who has the gold makes the rules. They are asking for all the gold," said city lawyer Thomas Cox of EAI's proposal.

Committee members urged the board to reject the company's offer to take over near full-control of the city's 32 schools. Although the board discussed the EAI proposal in public, it continued to refuse to release copies of the controversial plan that would turn over to EAI the entire $171.1 million school budget plus a $66 million employee benefits plan.

The special city hall committee, which met behind closed doors, said in its report to the board that it "might be willing to support a recommendation that EAI be contracted for a more limited role."

Supporters on the board, such as Ted Carroll, said this was likely. "Something could happen. The main issue is the level of involvement a firm would have," Mr. Carroll said.

EAI's proposal, reviewed by the Courant this week, would turn over to the company employee supervision and hiring, control of all finances, management of buildings and grounds and procurement of all supplies. It would greatly diminish the authority of the superintendent of schools and remove the authority of the city's corporation counsel to rule on legal disputes and contracts. The company also seeks to be closely involved in negotiating labor contracts with employees.

The EAI proposal, one of three submitted to the city and the only one the board is now considering, called for "a major redesign . . . of the education programs in Hartford."

William Hogan, acting city finance director, and Mr. Cox said the city charter does not allow turning over the money from the entire schools and benefits budgets to EAI.

"I do not have the comfort level that they can manage $237 million in cash flow," Mr. Hogan said.

Mr. Cox said EAI Chairman John Golle "was unable to provide any compelling reason why his firm should have control of the money."

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