EAI set to add 2 schools But City, Coleman would still run their classrooms


Little more than a year after assuming control of nine Baltimore public schools, Education Alternatives Inc. has reached five-year agreements to take over financial management, cafeterias, security and maintenance at City College and Robert W. Coleman Elementary School.

Unlike the arrangement at EAI's nine "Tesseract" schools, classroom instruction and curriculum at City and Coleman will be left to the schools' principals and faculties. But the Minneapolis company plans to provide some staff training when it begins managing the two schools next fall.

EAI, whose high-stakes gambit here has been watched closely by educators and investors nationwide, said it plans to spend $4 million to $5 million immediately on building renovations and repairs, computer labs, computerized systems to track the students' progress and office equipment at the two schools.

The contracts represent the private, for-profit company's first expansion since it took over the nine Tesseract schools last year in the most extensive school "privatization" experiment in the country.

The City College contract, however, is not yet final because of language changes the school requested that must be approved by EAI. Both sides said the changes are not substantive and expected a final agreement within a few weeks.

"School improvement teams" consisting of the principals, teachers, alumni, parents, teachers and other staff, signed the contracts. Superintendent Walter G. Amprey approved them.

City College, in the 3200 block of The Alameda near Memorial Stadium, and Coleman, at 2400 Windsor Ave. in Mondawmin, are among the city's 30 new "enterprise schools," which manage their own finances and educational programs and have authority to contract for services.

Dr. Amprey said that the contracts need no further approval from the school board or the city's Board of Estimates, which approved a five-year contract for the Tesseract schools worth more than $26.7 million in its first year.

John T. Golle, EAI's chairman and chief executive officer, said that the expansion in Baltimore came as a direct result of the company's success at the nine Tesseract schools.

"I find it extraordinary to believe that anyone could walk into any of those nine schools and say that things aren't demonstrably better," he said. "Mayor Schmoke sees it. The superintendent sees it. The parents and kids -- they see it. It makes sense to expand the things that work and not the things that don't work."

Not everybody shares the enthusiasm -- including anonymous critics who posted "For Sale" signs on the City College lawn Tuesday.

The Baltimore Teachers Union strenuously objected to any expansion of EAI's role before an outside evaluation of its Tesseract experiment is complete.

"It's just too early to say if it's working, really," said Linda Prudente, a union spokeswoman. "And if it's not working, why would we expand it?"

Dr. Amprey said the school system plans to hire an outside evaluator to assess the Tesseract experiment.

He dismissed the claims of EAI critics and skeptics, whose numbers include City Council President Mary Pat Clarke.

"It's time to take action," Dr. Amprey said. "I think we can no longer argue that intervention is not necessary when it comes to taking care of our kids."

EAI will work with budgets of more than $3 million for the 531-student Coleman and more than $5.5 million at the 1,100-student City College.

Most of that will go toward teacher salaries and administrative costs.

The company will subcontract the financial management of the schools to KPMG Peat Marwick and maintenance to Johnson Controls Worldwide Services, a unit of Johnson Controls Inc.

The company says it made a slim profit last year, even after a capital investment of $7.6 million in the nine Tesseract schools.

Its share price hit a record high of $48.50 Friday, but had dropped to $40.50 by the end of trading yesterday.

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