Parents press Schmoke on EAI School management is praised, assailed at contract meeting

November 21, 1995|By Jean Thompson | Jean Thompson,SUN STAFF

Anxious parents and employees from the Baltimore schools run by Education Alternatives Inc. implored Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke yesterday to allow the for-profit firm to continue running nine city schools.

At the same time, opponents of for-profit management of public schools, including some parents unhappy with EAI, urged the mayor to take a tough stance as he considers this week whether to end or alter the multimillion-dollar arrangement.

More than 200 people overflowed the Board of Estimates chambers for two hours, with EAI supporters outnumbering the detractors as Mr. Schmoke described his frustration at contract talks that began in June and remain unresolved.

Mr. Schmoke seeks a flat $7 million reduction to EAI's $44 million fee in this academic year; EAI has offered to take that cut if its contracts are extended to allow the company to recoup the loss.

"At this point, on this day, we do not have a deal," the mayor said.

Mr. Schmoke is to meet today with the city school board, which has the legal power to terminate the contract.

Fans and foes were impassioned in their arguments to influence a decision that Mr. Schmoke said must be made soon.

"The schools have computers and telephones and books now that they didn't have before EAI started here," said Yvonne Boone, a city bus driver who has three children at EAI's Sarah M. Roach Elementary School.

Reducing EAI's fee or ending the contract "could affect everything these children are used to," she said.

Some parents expressed little faith that the public school system would maintain the cleanliness of the schools or the quality of the teaching they feel that EAI offers.

Most of the statewide tests used to measure school progress are given in the spring, and midyear disruptions and staff changes could affect children's concentration and progress, warned Jasmine Gunthorpe, an EAI parent liaison and a parent.

"The system is somehow not in place to preserve and safeguard what these children have come to expect," she said, urging the mayor to leave the contract as it is.

Others said they feel their children are not achieving under EAI management.

Virginia Almony presented Baltimore schools Superintendent Walter G. Amprey with a petition she said contained more than 100 signatures from parents at Graceland Park-O'Donnell Heights Elementary who want the contract to end.

"Our children aren't learning" under EAI, she said.

"I back the city 100 percent," said Columbus Battle, grandfather and uncle to two EAI students.

"I appreciate that EAI has made modest improvements in the schools, but they came in here with these gigantic promises and they have fallen terribly short," said Mr. Battle, who was typical of critics of EAI.

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