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Baltimore Mayor Seeks Changes in E.A.I. Contract

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Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke of Baltimore has stepped up the pressure on Education Alternatives Inc. to produce more notable academic improvements in the city schools under its control.

Faced with mounting criticism of the school system and its pioneering relationship with the for-profit company, Mayor Schmoke this month called for substantial revisions in the city's contract with E.A.I., including the insertion of stringent new performance standards.

"Based on E.A.I.'s own information about academic performance, I think there's a need to change this contract significantly," the mayor said.

Mr. Schmoke also said he was awaiting a third-party evaluation of the company's performance in managing nine Baltimore schools. He said he may call for the contract to be terminated if that report shows the schools have made little progress.

The city is allowed to terminate the contract with 90 days' notice.

Critics of the city's relationship with Minneapolis-based E.A.I. last week called the proposed changes in the contract long overdue and attributed them to political pressures on Mr. Schmoke in an election year.

"It was a politically expedient thing to do, but it was also the right thing to do," said Anthony J. Ambridge, a city council member who has long opposed the contract.

"I don't think we need to continue pouring the money we are pouring into this without having substantial improvement gains," said Carl Stokes, the chairman of the council's education committee. He recently established a separate, seven-member committee to oversee the E.A.I. contract and advise the mayor.

Mixed Reviews

Mayor Schmoke praised the company for its success in the non-academic aspects of school operations, such as maintenance, and said it had transformed the nine schools into more inviting places with well-managed and efficient non-instructional workers.

But, the mayor added, the company's records showed it had not demonstrated substantial gains in student achievement except in mathematics, and that E.A.I. students were faring only marginally better than others in the district in attendance and reading.

Mr. Schmoke denied charges that he was playing politics, and said his actions were prompted by E.A.I.'s reports and discussions with the superintendent.

Donna J. Franks, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore schools, said that because the nine schools entrusted to E.A.I. had the lowest-achieving populations in the school system, district officials had not expected a dramatic increase in test scores.

Ms. Franks defended the company's efforts. "This is probably one of the most scrutinized programs in the country."

Superintendent Walter G. Amprey has said the district should look beyond test scores in evaluating the company's progress.

Philip E. Geiger, an E.A.I. division president, said the company's efforts to boost achievement were hindered because it lacks full control over its teachers, who remain district employees.

Linda D. Prudente, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore Teachers Union, called Mr. Geiger's explanation "a cop out" that "is typical of E.A.I.'s teacher-bashing mentality."

"Other schools are making tremendous gains--with school system employees," said Ms. Prudente. She criticized the company as "quick to blame everybody but themselves."

Mary Pat Clarke, the president of the city council and a challenger in the upcoming mayoral election, last week criticized Mr. Schmoke for changing the contract "very late in the day."

Ms. Franks said district officials would be very disappointed if Mr. Schmoke asks that the contract with E.A.I. be terminated.

"But," she added, "we have a very pro-education mayor, so we consider it very important that we keep him."

Special-Education Reforms

Along with demanding changes in the contract with E.A.I., Mayor Schmoke also has proposed reforms in the school district's special-education programs.

The district has been embroiled in a lawsuit over such programs for more than a decade, and a federal judge found Mr. Amprey in civil contempt last fall for failing to comply with a consent decree resulting from the case. (See Education Week, 11/16/94.)

Mr. Schmoke said this month that he will create a deputy superintendent's office with sweeping powers over special education.

The mayor said he also plans to replace the district's computerized system for tracking special education, which the federal court has repeatedly criticized as inadequate.

He called on the district to adopt new policies that would threaten principals with dismissal, demotion, and other sanctions if their schools failed to comply with special-education orders.

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