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Attacks Mount Against E.A.I.'s Hartford Plans

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The Hartford, Conn., school system's relationship with Education Alternatives Inc. showed strains last week as teachers, principals, and school board members assailed the private management company's plans for the district.

The school board agreed to continue working with E.A.I. but insisted that the company mend its rift with the district superintendent and redraft its proposed budget for the coming year.

Hundreds of teachers' union members, meanwhile, kept up a drumbeat of protests against the company's plans to cut jobs and redirect the savings toward computers, supplies, and other needs identified by local school-governance teams. Union leaders were joined by some city council members in demanding that the school board end the public-private partnership with E.A.I. it entered into last fall. (See Education Week, 10/12/94.)

Superintendent Eddie L. Davis and company officials were working late last week to piece together a new budget from the remains of their conflicting spending plans, both of which the board rejected.

The city council complicated their task--and further shook up the local political scene--by deciding to allocate nearly $5 million less to the district than the school board had expected for the coming fiscal year.

While E.A.I.'s supporters on the board remained confident that the company would find the money to bring about hoped-for reforms, they expressed impatience with the Minneapolis-based company's perceived missteps and voiced weariness with the employee protests that have disrupted recent board meetings.

"Right now, there is a collective frustration on the part of those who have supported the initiative from the start," said G. Stewart Murchie, an aide to Mayor Michael P. Peters. The mayor has tried to intervene in support of E.A.I. during the current strife.

Frances Sanchez, a teacher who serves on the city council, offered to try to tack $5 million on to the city's appropriation to the district if it terminated its contract with the for-profit company. The school board voted 6 to 3 last week not to consider such a step.

"We are in this contract not just for the money, but because we believe it can make a difference for the children educationally," Stephanie S. Lightfoot, the board's vice president, said.

Nevertheless, Arthur A. Brouillet, a school board member who staunchly opposes the district's relationship with E.A.I., predicted last week that the company's days in the district were numbered--especially in light of the fact that most of its supporters on the board are up for re-election in the fall.

"How can you work with a predatory group looking for profit?" Mr. Brouillet said.

Competing Budgets

Even the company's supporters have voiced alarm over the apparent lack of cooperation at the district's top management level: Superintendent Davis and E.A.I. submitted separate budget plans for the coming year.

Speaking on behalf of Mayor Peters, Mr. Murchie said: "What this indicates is that the two parties are not talking to each other effectively." "This needs to be resolved sooner than later," he said.

The superintendent's spending plan had been snubbed by a board majority that felt it offered little in the way of change.

"'Business as usual' is producing a school district in which students are continuing to slide," said Edward J. Carroll, a board member who has been supportive of the company.

The E.A.I. budget, on the other hand, called for radical changes designed to carry out a long-term reform plan the board approved last summer. It entrusted the fledgling governance teams at the district's 32 schools with far more control over their schools' resources and education programs, and transferred money from the central administration to the schools to finance site-based reforms.

The company also indicated that it might cut the district workforce next year. It predicted shrinkage in student enrollment and asserted that Hartford spends far more than other districts in the state on teacher salaries.

Mr. Davis interpreted the company's budget plan as calling for the elimination of about 300 jobs, most of them teaching positions. Although the company described this figure as based on an extreme scenario, the superintendent denounced such workforce reductions as both likely and unacceptable.

"You build an educational budget based on your curriculum and program needs. You don't develop a financial plan and tell the school system to fit into it," Mr. Davis said in an interview last week.

More than 1,000 teachers came to one board meeting and protested the budget plan so loudly that proceedings were delayed and the board members called for police protection. At another meeting, all of the district's principals stood up to express their displeasure with the company's proposals.

"If there was any evidence that this group does not belong in Hartford, I think this budget provided it," said George C. Springer, the president of the Connecticut Federation of Teachers, which has been working with its Hartford affiliate and the national office of the American Federation of Teachers in opposing E.A.I. plans to cut the budget.

Company Scores Unions

John T. Golle, the company's chief executive officer, accused the unions' leadership of spreading misinformation about the budget.

~"They have brought the system to a point where it can no longer meet the needs of children, but it does a splendid job of meeting the needs of adults," he said last week.

Nevertheless, some of the company's most vocal supporters on the school board also expressed dissatisfaction with E.A.I.'s $171 million budget plan, arguing that it sought to give the school-governance teams far more budgetary power than they are ready to handle.

"In this budget, they are essentially recommending a way through which their expense, and the investments they have made, can be paid," Mr. Carroll said. As drafted, the plan would leave schools understaffed and "result in more problems than it would solve," he said.

Mr. Golle acknowledged last week that the budget plan had called for radical changes. But, he said, those are what the board had contracted with his company to introduce. He compared the 23,000-student district to a cancer patient who, when prescribed chemotherapy, worries primarily about losing his hair.

Mr. Golle vowed to forge ahead with his efforts to implement the school board's ambitious reform agenda.

"We were hired to do a most unpleasant task, a task they obviously could not do alone--or they would have," he said.

The school board plans to approve a revise budget by June 19. It must approve a budget by the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

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