Angered that erroneous test score data led to mistaken beliefs about the success of a private company running eight public schools, the Baltimore City Council voted unanimously last night to open an investigation into the Department of Education's role in the episode.
The council passed a resolution asking the city comptroller to perform an audit and investigate the department's handling of test scores at the eight "Tesseract" schools operated by Education Alternatives Inc. of Minnesota.
Last spring, the school system reported that test scores of students at the EAI schools had improved. But new data made available last week indicated that the scores of students at those schools had actually declined over the past two years while districtwide test scores had risen.
"If there was a clerical mistake, it means incompetence; if there was no clerical mistake, it means we are being misled," said 4th District Councilman Lawrence A. Bell III, sponsor of the resolution, which was adopted without debate.
Mr. Bell said city officials based their decision to continue EAI's five-year, $140 million contract on reports in May that progress was being made in the EAI-run schools. He said Hartford, Conn., had given EAI an even more lucrative contract based on what that city believes the company is doing in Baltimore.
"At the very least, we should get accurate information," Mr. Bell said. He said he initially prepared a resolution asking that the city's experiment with school privatization, now in its second year, be ended. He decided instead that an investigation should come first.
EAI officials have questioned the "integrity" of the city's test data and have said they are working with nine independent testing experts to provide a more detailed look at each student's performance and length of time in an EAI school.
In other business, the council gave preliminary approval to a proposal that would require companies providing such things as school custodial services to the city to pay their employees a prevailing minimum hourly wage, set at $6.10 an hour the first year. The city has a similar law affecting construction contractors.
The council also gave preliminary approval to a proposal that would make landlords responsible for the disposal of property left behind by evicted tenants. Furniture left on the streets after evictions has added to Baltimore's trash collection woes.
Council Vice President Vera P. Hall, who sponsored the bill, said the city spent $494,357 last year to cart such items to landfills. The proposal would make landlords liable for removing the "eviction chattel" or be subject to a $500 fine.
A proposed amendment to the city's zoning ordinance that would put adult video stores in the same category as adult bookstores and keep them out of residential areas was introduced last night by 1st District Councilman John L. Cain.
Mr. Cain said his bill was prompted by neighborhood complaints after the opening of an Adult Video Outlet on Pulaski Highway and another on Erdman Avenue near the Armistead Gardens neighborhood.
"There is a place for them, and we are saying by this legislation that the place is downtown where The Block is," he said, referring to the city's adult entertainment district.