Schmoke vows to be tight on money issue in EAI contract talks Firm will be paid less if it stays, mayor insists nTC

November 03, 1995|By Jean Thompson | Jean Thompson,SUN STAFF

On the eve of contract talks destined to alter Baltimore's financial relationship with Education Alternatives Inc., Mayor Kurt Schmoke yesterday held to a hard-line stance that the city pays too much for EAI's services.

"Either they are to be here for less money, or they are not going to be here at all," he said during his weekly news conference.

"My understanding is they are not walking away from our schools. My understanding, unless I hear something different [today], is they intend to be in Baltimore City schools for this academic year. If so, they will get less money."

Baltimore has asked the Minneapolis school-management firm to bear a nearly 25 percent contract cut this academic year -- $10 million off a $44 million agreement for running nine city schools.

Separate contracts cover consulting and maintenance at three other schools, and Mr. Schmoke expects EAI officials to propose reducing services at all 12.

In Baltimore with other corporate officers to prepare for the negotiations, EAI President John Golle declined to outline the firm's response or its proposals. Company officials say they want to continue in Baltimore.

"No one wants to harm something that is working for the children," Mr. Golle said yesterday.

Since 1993, EAI's analysis of test scores show, EAI students outperformed students citywide and students enrolled in a group of comparison schools; it is a significant improvement, Mr. Golle he said.

An independent evaluation by researchers at the University of Maryland Baltimore County this summer found that by last school year, EAI students' scores overall rebounded from an earlier fall, an assessment that is positive but more modest than EAI's interpretation.

"There are really two issues here right now," Mr. Golle said. "One, how well are the children doing in the schools? And two, is the economic formula one that will yield results, not just in our schools but in all schools?"

School Superintendent Walter G. Amprey, who has been the staunchest advocate for EAI, said the city must consider the school system's budget trouble -- a shortfall of at least $32 million.

While he wants to see EAI's experiment continue at its current level, he said, he recognizes that it is expensive, and not entirely at EAI's doing. Cost increases include teacher salary raises approved by the city, for example.

The school system budget for this year shows that EAI schools received about 11 percent more than comparison schools for costs relating directly to education, UMBC's report said.

The researchers recommended continuing the experiment, but reconsidering the cost -- although it did not specify how much would be appropriate.

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