EAI seeking changes to school pact

June 09, 1995|By Mike Bowler and James Bock | Mike Bowler and James Bock,Sun Staff Writers

Education Alternatives Inc., the company managing nine Baltimore public schools, wants to change the way it is paid when it renegotiates a five-year contract with the city.

John T. Golle, EAI's chief executive, said yesterday the company wants to be paid by the city on the basis of its actual costs in managing the schools rather than the systemwide average cost per pupil, which is $5,847 this year. EAI pays back the city 7.5 percent to cover administrative costs.

The Minneapolis company has been criticized for having more money to spend, on average, than other Baltimore schools, and company officials believe a different financing method would be easier for the public to understand.

The company also wants to change the curriculum to better help students prepare for state proficiency tests, EAI officials said yesterday.

A three-part series in The Sun this week showed that while EAI improved the physical environment and brought teaching strategies to its "Tesseract" schools in Baltimore, student performance has been disappointing. EAI used the city curriculum, which was criticized as weak on content, at the schools.

The company chose to adopt the city curriculum when it launched a five-year experiment in privatization in 1992, but is allowed by contract to supplement it. Mr. Golle said a goal of the company is to ensure that what students learn is the same as what they are tested on in the Maryland School Performance Program.

"We're going to be totally aligned with the state's proficiency tests," Mr. Golle said yesterday. EAI officials are looking into ways to do that.

EAI's future in Baltimore is unclear, however. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has ordered the contract renegotiation and has said he will terminate the contract if test scores at the Tesseract schools continue to lag and an independent evaluation due this summer doesn't show significant improvement in student achievement.

Clinton R. Coleman, Mr. Schmoke's spokesman, said the mayor wouldn't "make any decision about EAI's future" until after he receives the evaluation by the University of Maryland Baltimore County's Center for Educational Research. That is not expected until next month or early August.

However, Mr. Coleman said the mayor wants renegotiation of the contract to begin right away. The mayor says performance standards must be added to the pact.

Mr. Schmoke's spokesman said the mayor "does foresee a role for EAI, though not necessarily in the classroom. They are doing a wonderful job in terms of managing schools, helping principals."

He also said the mayor recently met with parents from the Tesseract schools who expressed support for retaining EAI.

Meanwhile, faced with steady opposition and a budget crisis in Hartford, Conn., where EAI has a contract to manage all 32 public schools, Mr. Golle proposed a dramatic scaling back to five schools during the next school year.

He said EAI would continue systemwide work on such things as financial management and strategic planning, but the company would "place our initial effort in doing five schools well, then phase in the rest of the schools next year and the year after."

With the EAI program in Hartford concentrated in five schools instead of "dissipated" across 32, Mr. Golle said, he hoped to convince critics of the effectiveness of Tesseract. "Everyone's reluctant to change until they can see that this will really benefit them," he said.

Renegotiating the Baltimore contract will be the responsibility of Superintendent Walter G. Amprey, according to Phillip H. Farfel, president of the city school board. Dr. Farfel said the superintendent checks with the school board if there are significant adjustments. He said the city Board of Estimates, not the school board, approves contract changes.

Dr. Farfel said he would be "receptive" to changes but had no agenda for Dr. Amprey to follow.

He said parents of children at the Tesseract schools have been increasingly vocal in their support of EAI.

"The constituency that the board pays attention to first is the parents. When you hear a parent say, 'I like this for my child,' I take that to heart because these are the customers we are serving. They are closest and would know best," he said.

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