The children come first EAI contract: Money isn't the only consideration in deciding experiment's future.

November 21, 1995

ANY DECISION to terminate Education Alternatives Inc.'s stewardship of nine city schools should be based on the performance of EAI, not Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's need to cover a budget shortfall he helped create. There should be no disruption in the education of children in the Tesseract schools.

School children didn't create the money problem. It resulted from the way the mayor andhis school superintendent handled school finances. Faced with the expense of settling a special education lawsuit and a big penalty for failing to meet a legislative mandate for management reforms, teachers still were granted a pay raise the city apparently couldn't afford. Now the mayor is paying the price.

Mr. Schmoke vowed that budget cuts would't affect the classroom, but if the EAI contract is voided in the middle of the school year, children at the Tesseract schools could be harmed. To avoid that, every possible step should be taken to keep the EAI contract in force at least until the end of the school year.

Beyond that, the mayor must make sure the principals and teachers at the Tesseract schools continue the progress they have been making under EAI's supervision. That means he must find the funds to continue the leasing of computers used at those schools. It also means there should be no lessening of the commitment to make those schools clean and safe environments for education.

The City Council's education committee conducted an evaluation of EAI earlier this year. The mayor had a separate study of EAI done by the Center for Educational Research at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. UMBC's report concluded the privately managed schools show little difference from comparable city-run schools on test results, attendance, parent involvement or cleanliness.

That doesn't mean EAI has failed at the Tesseract schools. Parents will tell you EAI has helped their children. But EAI promised to deliver better students at the same cost paid in other public schools. It hasn't. The Tesseract schools receive about 11.2 percent more money than other city schools. A budget crisis has Mayor Schmoke wanting to take that money back. That's understandable, but it's also unfair to do it at the children's expense.

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