The private Minneapolis firm that took over operation of nine Baltimore schools last year has won the support of Superintendent Walter G. Amprey in its bid to privatize some functions at 24 other city schools.
Education Alternatives Inc., which has sunk nearly $8 million into its "Tesseract" experiment here, has delivered its sales pitch to all 24 schools and received non-binding letters of intent to contract for services at City College and Robert W. Coleman Elementary.
News of the city's plans to consider expanding EAI's role surfaced in late August, when school and company officials confirmed discussions centering on City, Coleman and William H. Lemmell Middle School.
Yesterday, Dr. Amprey expressed support for a much wider role in 24 so-called "enterprise schools," which have authority to contract for services and would need no further approval from the school board or the city.
City College and Coleman are enterprise schools, started this year as part of an effort to shift control and accountability from North Avenue headquarters to individual schools.
Company and city school officials have yet to determine precisely what the EAI's role may be. They said it could offer a broad spectrum of services and equipment -- such as providing computers, taking control of finances, repairing and maintaining school buildings, and offering intensive teaching tailored to each individual student's needs and progress.
EAI is running the nine Tesseract schools under a five-year contract worth $26.7 million annually. The company promises improved student performance, a custom-designed curriculum and a teacher and intern in every classroom, along with an array of high-tech equipment.
EAI's leaders, who came to Baltimore from Minneapolis this week to meet with Dr. Amprey and visit Tesseract schools, have yet to receive responses from the other 22 schools the company contacted.
Dr. Amprey praised EAI's work with about 4,800 children during its first year in Baltimore. The company, he said, has turned around some of the city's worst schools, improving their appearance, efficiency and, most important, students' attendance, attitudes and performance.
Renewing his call for expanding EAI's role, Dr. Amprey said: "This is a crucial time. We must move forward with this. If we can save more kids by exploring this, then we must move forward with it."
A school system evaluation of Tesseract, a name taken from a children's science-fiction book, should be complete within two weeks, Dr. Amprey said.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has said repeatedly that he wants to await an outside evaluation of the Tesseract schools before adding any others.
But he has no qualms with "school improvement teams" at individual schools -- which include the principal, parents, teachers and students -- contracting with EAI for services.
"Part of Dr. Amprey's whole push is to become more efficient," Mr. Schmoke's press secretary, Clinton R. Coleman, said yesterday. "If schools can benefit and become more efficient because of EAI's expertise, by all means the mayor supports it."
EAI also has begun preliminary talks with state school officials to offer its services to schools that face the possibility of state takeover if they fail to meet standards.
The company has taken over operation of two private schools, in Minneapolis and Arizona, as well as a public school in Dade County, Fla. But Baltimore represents its most extensive effort -- one closely monitored by school systems desperate for fresh, effective approaches.
The company, whose stock on the NASDAQ exchange has tripled in value in the past year, is negotiating with numerous public school systems. They include Milwaukee, California and Arkansas, where EAI has proposed taking over three school districts.