Baltimore's Board of Estimates yesterday postponed consideration of contracts with Educational Alternatives Inc. to take over support services at two city schools.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who controls three of the board's five votes, made it clear that he did not have a problem with the company, which has a five-year contract to run nine other city schools under the "Tesseract" privatization project.
"It's really procedural," Mr. Schmoke said of the postponement decision. "The lawyers have not thoroughly reviewed this contract."
But the mayor stressed to representatives of City College and Robert W. Coleman Elementary School that the Board of Estimates, and not the schools, has the final say over all contracts involving city money. He also urged them to "reach out" and discuss the contracts with unions and others who have raised objections before the contracts come before the board again, possibly as soon as Dec. 8.
City College, in the 3200 block of The Alameda near Memorial Stadium, and Coleman, at 2400 Coleman Ave. in the Mondawmin area, have reached separate five-year contracts with EAI worth over $12 million to have the company take over their financial management, cafeterias, security and maintenance.
However, the Minneapolis-based company would not oversee teaching at those two schools as it does at the nine Tesseract schools.
City College and Robert Coleman are among the city's 30 "enterprise schools," which manage their finances and educational programs independent of the schools' central bureaucracy.
The postponement was applauded by the Baltimore Teachers Union and taken in stride by representatives of EAI and the two schools -- all of whom attended yesterday's board meeting.
"I think it's way past time. We as a union have been raising these objections for at least six months," said Irene Dandridge, president of the BTU, which opposes any expansion of EAI's role in the schools before the completion of an independent evaluation of Tesseract.
John T. Golle, EAI's chief executive officer, said, "Am I surprised the decision was delayed? The answer is no. They have a very reasonable request that the documents be reviewed."
Addie E. Johnson, principal at Robert Coleman, called the delay "just part of a process." And City Councilman Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham, D-3rd, a 1967 City College graduate and a member of the "improvement team" that governs the school, said, "I have no doubts the contracts will be approved. I think the board has an obligation to support the schools moving in this direction. This is innovation."
City Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean, a Tesseract opponent, didn't directly criticize the contracts yesterday but pointedly told representatives of the two schools to consider doing business with Baltimore firms.