EAI to get $8.5 million more than city would ordinarily spend on schools


Education Alternatives Inc. will receive about $8.5 million more in city money to manage a dozen schools in 1995-1996 than the city ordinarily would have spent, school budget officials said yesterday.

The revelation, at a City Council hearing on the for-profit company's work here, drew criticism from some council members, who complained that the privatization venture diverts millions from other poor schools but has yet to produce academic gains.

"Everything I've seen says this has cost us millions of dollars more than we were spending on these schools," said Carl Stokes, chairman of the Education and Human Resources Committee. "And we're not really getting bang for our buck in terms of achievement."

This school year, the Minnesota company received about $8.7 million more than the city would have ordinarily spent, budget documents show. In the three years since the company began working in the city, the school system has siphoned off at least $18 million to bankroll the privatization venture, The Sun reported in a three-part series last week.

Responding to council members' repeated requests and threats of a subpoena, EAI agreed yesterday to provide a detailed accounting of how it has spent more than $106 million since 1992, when it began managing the nine "Tesseract" schools. The company reported more than $6 million in gross profits during its first two years in Baltimore.

EAI officials also agreed yesterday for the first time to release detailed budgets for those nine schools and three others where it has since begun working.

Superintendent Walter G. Amprey acknowledged that the system spends more money in EAI schools. But, he added, "I think the money we've spent has been well-spent."

The schools chief, now ending his fourth year, said EAI has provided a model of "school-based management," the effort to move money, authority and accountability for results from headquarters to individual schools.

Cities nationwide have looked to the Baltimore experiment as an exemplary effort to reverse the decline of schools, Dr. Amprey said. "Other cities are calling me," he said.

About a dozen parents, some with children, turned out in support of Tesseract. They said its teaching methods, use of computers and emphasis on self-esteem have helped their children progress in school.

"The Tesseract program works," said William B. Fowler Jr., whose 11-year-old daughter, Nefertiti, is graduating from Mary E. Rodman Elementary, a Tesseract school.

But the Baltimore Teachers Union renewed its long-standing criticism of EAI.

Irene Dandridge, BTU president, noted that EAI schools receive more money per pupil than most in the city. "I believe some of our children are being cheated," she said. "My biggest problem is we're a poor school system with a deficit, and we've got a company doing the same things we could do."

Mary Pat Clarke, the City Council president who is challenging Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary, also criticized the privatization experiment. She called on the city to pay EAI a fee based on performance instead of being allowed to take profits without producing academic gains.

Mr. Schmoke has threatened to end the Tesseract experiment unless an independent evaluation due this summer shows significant improvements in student performance. Meantime, the mayor has demanded that the contract be renegotiated to include academic standards for the first time.

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