School Support Service Privatization: A Five-State Survey

The survey asks district officials to what extent they use competitive contracting to provide noninstructional services, such as custodial, transportation and food services. Of the states surveyed, Pennsylvania had the highest rate of contracting out for at least one of the three major support services at 75 percent, followed by Michigan with 71 percent, Georgia at 38 percent, Texas with 23 percent and then Ohio at 17 percent. In Michigan, after consistent growth in the number of districts contracting out for noninstructional services over the course of the last decade, the rate of privatization barely changed from 2013 to 2014. However, contracting out by Michigan school districts grew once again in 2015: The percentage of districts in Michigan that contract out for at least one major noninstructional service grew from 67 percent in 2014 to 71 percent in 2015.

Depending on their size, school districts could be leaving millions of dollars on the table by not pursuing privatization. In the 2009, 2010 and 2011 surveys conducted by the Center, we collected data from district officials about how much they saved by contracting out. Officials reported saving an average of $34 per pupil on food service contracts, $191 per pupil for custodial contracts and $110 per pupil for transportation contracts.

Districts that wits to begin contracting should follow these rules of thumb: beginning with the end result in mind, visiting other districts, employing a timeline, casting a wide net, developing request for proposal (RFP) specifications independently, monitoring the contractor, choosing a point person (a public face and voice of privatization effort), building a privatization team, recommending a safety net for workers, and videotaping public proceedings.

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