Survey shows more Michigan public schools privatizing support services

Jan 21, 2014

Two in every three Michigan public school districts contract out at least one major service, like custodial, transportation or food service. That’s according to a yearly survey of districts.

The Midland-based research institute Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which supports privatizing services, has published the survey every year since 2003. Here’s a summary of the center’s survey:

In 2013, 65.5 percent of districts contracted out at least one of these three support services. This is up from 60.7 percent in 2012. In 2001, the first year we started surveying districts, only 31 percent of school districts contracted out one of these services.

Transportation contracting, the least frequently of these services to be contracted out, is increasing rapidly. The proportion of districts using private companies to provide transportation services increased from 16.4 percent to 20.9 percent from 2012 to 2013. Thirty districts began new contracts for transportation services in 2013. In 2008, only 6 percent of districts contracted out the service.

Custodial services are the most frequently contracted service, with 45.5 percent of districts using private contractors in 2013. This is an increase from 39.2 percent in 2012. These figures have grown steadily since 2003 when just 6.6 percent of districts used private contractors to clean and maintain district buildings.

Food service contracting is not growing as quickly as the other two services, but remains quite common. In 2013, 21 districts began new contracts for these services. The rates increased slightly, from 34.6 percent in 2012 to 36.5 percent in 2013.

You can find the full report here.

James Hohman is assistant director of fiscal policy at The Mackinac Center. He co-authored the survey.

He says districts report they’re more satisfied with the services than any other year.

“We don’t recommend that a district contract services out to anyone. You have to go through the whole process to make sure that it’s a good fit for your school district and that it will deliver savings to the school district,” Hohman said.

Hohman says 15 districts reported they brought some services back in house after privatizing them.

He says calculating an exact savings is complicated. But he does provide some average cost savings per year.

“Custodial contracting saved districts about $100 per pupil, transportation around $75 and food service around $30 per pupil, which is pretty substantial,” Hohman said.

All 545 public school districts in Michigan took part in the survey.