Baltimore Co. educators also got trips to Florida


Arizona wasn't the only destination for Baltimore County school administrators in travel financed by Educational Management Group Inc., a company seeking a $5 million no-bid contract from county schools.

The multimedia education company, which has bankrolled dozens of trips to its Scottsdale, Ariz., headquarters -- also picked up the tab for county school representatives on visits to Orlando. EMG sponsored at least two trips to Florida this year to show educators its programs in Orange and Broward county classrooms, a company spokesman acknowledged yesterday.

Meanwhile, Baltimore school officials said EMG has brought a number of city school administrators -- and at least one parent -- to Arizona for training. EMG has contracts worth $303,000 at three city schools and $271,000 in contracts pending at three more schools, city officials said.

Officials of the Archdiocese of Baltimore also have been EMG's guests in Arizona. In several Baltimore-area suburbs, public school officials said they were familiar with EMG's products or have been approached by the company but have expressed little interest.

Baltimore County's school board has requested an investigation into possible ethics violations by school employees who took EMG-financed trips, which included lodging in a four-star hotel.

One board member, Robert Dashiell, noting that the school superintendent and other top administrators traveled at EMG's expense, said he couldn't avoid viewing the situation as an "unhealthy relationship."

Nine county schools are using EMG's on-line and satellite-based instructional programs, for which the county has paid $3.4 million. A proposed expansion, worth $5 million, would bring the program into a total of 68 schools and training sites.

Officials of EMG, which does business with 3,500 schools nationwide and reaches about 1 million students, defend the trips.

Commenting on the Florida travel in January and March by eight Baltimore County employees, EMG spokesman Andrew Giangola said, "Orlando is the largest EMG user in the country. We invite people to meet Florida educators and see EMG technology in action in classrooms. It is a roll-up-your-sleeves, serious, substantive working session to learn about this innovative breakthrough technology."

More than 200 other educators from around the nation attended the March conference, he said.

As part of EMG's Baltimore-area marketing campaign, about three dozen top executives and administrators from the Baltimore County school system were flown to the company's headquarters for introductory training. The company also paid for training trips by 33 county teachers.

A team of teachers and administrators from one of the county's magnet schools went to Orlando in March for a two-night stay, courtesy of EMG, according to school employees familiar with the trips. They would not publicly disclose the name of the school.

EMG lodged the employees at the Peabody Orlando Hotel, an upscale convention facility with three restaurants, tennis courts and an Olympic-size swimming pool. Room prices range from $155 to $225, said general manager Allan Villaverde.

The Baltimore County contingent was among several hundred educators from around the country who attended the workshop, which included equipment demonstrations.

Another school system employee, who asked not to be identified, said he went to Orlando for a weekend, stayed at the Omni hotel there and visited two school systems that use EMG products.

Three top Baltimore City school administrators -- Patricia E. Newby, deputy superintendent; Brenda J. Conley, director of professional development; and Mary R. Nicholsonne, associate superintendent for instruction -- traveled to Scottsdale at EMG's expense for training, said Nat Harrington, a spokesman for the school system.

At least two principals at schools with EMG contracts and several aides, including a parent designated a "technical director" at Montebello Elementary School, also made the trip west. One of them, Montebello Elementary Principal Dale Parker-Brown, went twice.

L Ms. Parker-Brown could not be reached yesterday for comment.

"Training that only could be done in Arizona was done in Arizona, and only the people who had to go went for training," Mr. Harrington said.

Montebello, about to enter its third year with EMG, has the most fully developed program in Baltimore. EMG has done $183,000 in business at Montebello since 1993.

Ardena S. Dixon, principal of Dallas F. Nicholas Sr. Elementary, said her school's contract with EMG was delayed by the city until an assistant principal wrote a letter declaring that EMG's services were unique and not subject to competitive bidding.

A $54,000 contract was approved for Nicholas on Wednesday, said school system spokeswoman Donna Franks. Furman Templeton Elementary has a $65,900 contract. Pending are requests from Frederick Elementary, $65,000; George Kelson Elementary, $127,000; and Gilmor Elementary, $79,000.

Ronald Valenti, superintendent of education for the Archdiocese Baltimore, said he and several of his assistants were guests of EMG at the company's Scottsdale base. He and more than 200 Catholic school principals and administrators also were also guests of EMG at a luncheon and conference this year at the Turf Valley Country Club in Howard County.

"I was quite impressed with their programs," Dr. Valenti said. "We need to enhance the curriculum, and this is one possible way." He said neither he nor a study group has selected a high-tech company to install equipment in area Catholic schools.

Officials in Anne Arundel, Harford and Carroll counties said they have taken no trips to Arizona or Florida and have no plans to purchase EMG services.

In Howard County, the school system's technology director, Richard Weisenhoff, said officials there rejected EMG two years ago "because I thought that their price was a little high for the product they were offering."

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