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Flap in Baltimore Spurs Calls for Revisions in E.A.I. Pact

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Baltimore city officials last week called for a probe of the school system and the substantial revision or termination of the city's contracts with Education Alternatives Inc.

The outcry followed reports that district officials overstated academic gains at schools run by the for-profit firm.

Superintendent Walter G. Amprey denied any intentional wrongdoing and said he stood by the Minneapolis-based company that runs nine Baltimore schools and provides consulting services at three more.

In Hartford, Conn., meanwhile, the city council appeared last week to have resolved its differences with the school board over a contract entrusting the entire 26,000-student district and its budget of some $200 million to E.A.I.

Pedro E. Segarra, the city's lawyer, said last week that he plans to sign the contract and expects the city council to approve it this week.

Media Pressure

The most recent Baltimore flap began last week when The Sun newspaper reported that district officials erred last spring in citing increases in test scores at the eight elementary schools run by E.A.I.

Reading scores actually have dropped at three of the five schools where the district had claimed two-year gains, and math scores increased only half as much as reported, the newspaper reported. Over all, scores at E.A.I. schools declined while the district's averages were rising, The Sun reported.

On Oct. 19, a Sun editorial questioned whether someone in the district had deliberately overstated the E.A.I. schools' gains in an effort to help the firm land the Hartford contract. The newspaper and several city council members have urged that the city solicitor investigate.

Calls For Termination

Carl Stokes, the chairman of the council's education and human resources committee, said in an interview last week that the city should either terminate the contracts or modify them severely.

"That means we give them less money and demand better results," Mr. Stokes said. Ending the agreement could save the city $10 million a year, he said.

The city's contract with the company allows the school board to terminate it with 90 days' notice, officials said.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke told local reporters that he had no plans to end the contract, but may consider doing so next year if student performance does not improve.

Superintendent Amprey dismissed the latest controversy as driven by disgruntled unions and opportunistic politicians.

The Hartford school board had planned to go ahead with the E.A.I. contract it finalized this month, even without having the city council's backing. (See Education Week, Oct. 12, 1994.)

Nevertheless, "it will just work a lot easier, and have a greater chance of success, if the city is a partner in the effort," Ted Carroll, a board member, said last week.

Last week's agreement calls for amending the contract to give the board more financial oversight.

Also last week, the school board voted to consider, as permitted under its E.A.I. contract, having the Edison Project, another for-profit firm, run a handful of schools.

The Hartford Federation of Teachers and the Hartford Principals' and Supervisors' Association have filed complaints with the Connecticut labor relations board seeking to block the E.A.I. contract.

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