An article Sept. 9 incorrectly reported the amount Baltimore is paying a private firm to run several cafeterias at city schools. The firm, Johnson Controls, will receive $70,000 under the contract.
The Sun regrets the error.
For many schoolchildren, the choices at the cafeteria lead to a daily dilemma: Will it be the casserole with the mystery meat or a bag of chips for lunch?
At Baltimore's nine "Tesseract" schools, the food service is being turned over to a private firm that hopes to woo back dissatisfied students by allowing them to sample dishes and help revamp the menu.
Healthier versions of popular fast foods and finger foods are likely to be added, as well as ethnic foods from countries about which students are studying. Menu changes will be made by a committee of children, parents and faculty members and approved by the school system, said John Everett, a consultant with Johnson Controls World Services Inc.
The partner with Education Alternatives Inc., the Minneapolis firm that took over running the nine faltering schools last year, won approval from the city's Board of Estimates yesterday to operate the cafeterias.
But the $1.3 million contract prompted Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to renew his call for a report card on the bold experiment in privatization.
"I've been very concerned that we haven't hired yet or contracted yet with an outside party to evaluate this entire Tesseract contract," he said. "We have no basis . . . to compare Tesseract schools to any other ones in our system."
The mayor, who has praised EAI's efforts but said he prefers to wait for a formal evaluation before any expansion, suggested hiring an educational consulting or accounting firm to assess the progress.
Asked about an outside evaluation, city schools Superintendent Walter G. Amprey said he and EAI support it.
Educational Alternatives has a five-year contract, worth $26.7 million in its first year, to run the project known as "Tesseract," a term from a children's science fiction novel. Johnson Controls took over maintaining the buildings but did not operate the cafeterias last year because of a federal bidding requirement, said Jim Butterfield, a Johnson Controls technical services specialist.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture eventually granted Johnson Controls an exemption to take over the food service without going through competitive bidding, he said.
School officials backed the contract, even though it calls for giving Johnson Controls a 7-cent fee on each meal, because the company has guaranteed the school system at least a $185,000 profit by the end of the year. The firm intends to make up an expected $700,000 in management fees by reducing food service costs and increasing student participation, Mr. Butterfield said.
The school system decided this year to privatize the food service at 18 high schools, bringing the number of lunchrooms run by outside companies to 27.
City Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean, who opposed the Tesseract contract along with City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, voted against privatizing the food service.
Ms. Clarke, who chairs the board, voted with the mayor and two other members in favor of the contract, but repeated her interest in a parallel project run by local schools.