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Companies Seeking To Drum Up School Business Form Trade Group

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Washington

Winning more business from public schools is the aim of a new trade association formed by private companies involved in student transportation, school food service, building maintenance, and classroom instruction.

The Education Services Council is made up of parties as diverse as the school-management company Education Alternatives Inc., transportation providers such as Laidlaw Transit Inc., and food service businesses such as Aramark Corp.

Albert A. Foer, the executive director of the new association, said that some $30 billion is spent annually by K-12 schools on private contractors of all sorts.

"Considering that over $300 billion is annually spent in the K-12 education market, there is certainly a lot of potential" for more to go to private services, he said at a press conference here last week.

Philip E. Geiger, the president of Minneapolis-based EAI, is the president of the council's board. Since last year, EAI has lost major management contracts with the Baltimore and Hartford, Conn., school districts.

The company does not currently have any public school contracts but is pursuing a charter school in Massachusetts, Mr. Geiger said.

"Superintendents have little support" when they seek to privatize school services, he said.

The New York City-based Edison Project, which is running 12 public schools this year, is also a member of the council.

Other companies are Atlantic Express Transportation Group Inc., Huntington Learning Centers, Kids 1 Inc., Princeton Review, Richard M. Milburn High School Inc., Ryder Student Transportation Services, ServiceMaster Management Services, and Southeast Service Corp.

Union Will Monitor

Mr. Foer said the council will work to educate the public and school districts about privatization, and it will also take aim at barriers to growth such as laws requiring districts to accept the lowest bids "without consideration of quality."

Another target is "collective bargaining agreements that give unions the ability to block or frustrate any contracting," he said.

"Contracting has its opponents, many of whom speak in idealistic terms about the dangers of mixing business with education, but who have obvious vested interests to protect," said Mr. Foer, a lawyer and a former employee of the Federal Trade Commission.

Celia Lose, a spokeswoman for the American Federation of Teachers, said the union will monitor the council's activities.

"The claim that unions are what keep these companies from entering into contracts successfully doesn't really pan out," she said.

The companies' track record with school contracts "is certainly lackluster at best," Ms. Lose added.

The council has a budget of about $100,000 for its first year of operation. It will be based in the Arlington, Va., offices of the American Association of School Administrators.

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