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Published in Print: May 3, 2000, as Baltimore Union Sues To Stop Private Firm From Running Schools

Baltimore Union Sues To Stop Private Firm From Running Schools

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The Baltimore Teachers Union has filed a lawsuit to try to stop a private company from operating three low-performing public schools.

The lawsuit, filed April 20 in Baltimore Circuit Court, argues that it was illegal for the state of Maryland and the city school board to enter into a contract with Edison Schools Inc. The arrangement, under which Edison will receive $10.7 million a year for five years, marked the first time a state has directly seized control of individual schools and turned them over to a private firm to manage. ("Private Firms Tapped To Fix Md. Schools," Feb. 9, 2000.)

Edison, based in New York City, is scheduled to begin its work in the three elementary schools July 1. It currently runs 79 schools in a number of states.

Financial Inequities Cited

The union, which has 8,500 members, charges in the suit that the contract diminishes job opportunities for its members and reduces the overall size of the "bargaining unit," or the employees for whom the union negotiates contracts.

"What the contract does is removes the schools from the public school system and makes Edison the employer," said Traci Burch, a lawyer for the union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. "The local board is responsible for establishing the education policy for the Baltimore city public schools, and this is removing the schools from their responsibility."

The contract allows Edison to set staffing levels and to hire, assign, evaluate, and pay teachers, the suit says, claiming that such functions are reserved for the public school system and not a private company.

The union also complains that the privatization agreement will result in more money being spent on Furman L. Templeton, Gilmore, and Montebello elementary schools than is spent on schools in the rest of the 107,000-student district. Those expenditures include capital improvements to the schools to be made before the 2000-01 school year, the suit says, and the cost of wiring the schools and providing computers, televisions, and VCRs.

"The Baltimore Teachers Union is pursuing legal recourse not only to protect the rights of its members, but to ensure that all of the schools in Baltimore City receive equal treatment and a fair allocation of resources," the union said in a statement.

Ronald A. Peiffer, an assistant state superintendent, said Maryland had essentially terminated the contract with the teachers' union because of the poor performance of students in the three schools.

"We believe we have the right to do that," he said.

State officials have agreed to consider various models for improving instruction, suggested by the union, at other low-performing schools in the city, he noted.

The union filed a similar suit in 1993 challenging the city's contract with a private company, Education Alternatives Inc., to operate nine schools. The suit was dismissed at the union's request after the city ended the experiment in 1996.

Vol. 19, Issue 34, Page 10

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