School board urges mayor to drop EAI Schmoke is advised to end contracts this academic year

Cost at center of dispute

Private company has managed 9 city schools for 3 1/2 years

November 22, 1995|By Jean Thompson | Jean Thompson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's school board turned its back on Education Alternatives Inc. yesterday, advising Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to end the firm's five-year contract with the city this academic year.

After a closed meeting with the mayor late yesterday, board members said their support for the 3 1/2 -year-old experiment has eroded during weeks of unfruitful fee negotiations with the Minneapolis school-management firm.

Labor representatives also recommended ending EAI's management and consulting deals affecting 12 city schools.

Their stance clears the way for Mr. Schmoke to sever the contracts, removing EAI from the schools as soon as February. He left the two-hour meeting telling reporters to expect today "a formal statement on the direction the school system is going to take with EAI."

Earlier in the day, EAI President John Golle arrived unexpectedly and said his company's financial circumstances have been misunderstood by city officials.

He said he sought a face-to-face meeting with the mayor to discuss the company's last contract proposals, but was rebuffed.

After missing the mayor's deadline Friday for accepting a flat $7 million fee reduction this year, EAI offered to take the cut in its $44 million contract with the city if it could be extended to recoup the loss.

"We will not participate in a giant step backward," Mr. Golle said. "Seven million is much more than what our company has taken back to Minneapolis since 1992."

He called the city's request "capricious" and "unfair" because the school system is asking him to provide much of the savings needed to balance its budget, which is $32 million in the red.

"This would have a devastating impact," on the company, which has only one other current contract, in Hartford, Conn., and is trying to sell its services in the District of Columbia. Ending the contract would not force the company into bankruptcy, he said.

Mr. Golle pushed a portfolio of budget papers across a desk and challenged observers to find $7 million of fat in the company finances. "Ask me for something I have," he pleaded.

Late yesterday, Superintendent Walter G. Amprey said he left the meeting with the mayor feeling that a last-minute resolution with Mr. Golle was unlikely.

"The overwhelming opinion that went to the mayor was that we should end the contract," Dr. Amprey said. "At this point, I want to make sure that the schools and their communities have some input in what happens next."

Board members told the mayor that the nine EAI-managed schools can be reborn as "enterprise schools" -- public schools managed by their principals and community-based school-improvement teams, as are all the others in Baltimore.

"I suggested that he go ahead and set the date at Dec. 1 to pull the plug," said board member Donald Gaither, whose patience with the on-again, off-again contract negotiations has waned. "I'm not impressed with the manner in which EAI has treated us."

Board member Mary Robinson added, "They've missed deadlines during the negotiations and expected us to keep talking. We expect deadlines to be met. That's how it's done in business -- and that's what they expect from our children -- to meet deadlines."

Irene Dandridge and Lorretta Johnson, co-presidents of the Baltimore Teachers Union, long-time opponents of EAI, called for the contract to end. Also at the meeting was Sheila Kolman, president of the Public School Administrators and Supervisors Association, who said that ending the contract would not cause disruption to management at the schools.

According to the city's contracts with EAI, only the school board can invoke a 90-day cancellation clause. Mr. Farfel said that if the mayor calls for the end of the contract, the school board would have to vote at a public meeting.

Its next regularly scheduled meeting is Dec. 14, but an emergency meeting could be called to consider the EAI contract.

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