The Mackinac Center for Public Policy released a survey on Jan. 21 that evaluated the growth in contracting support services in Michigan public schools. The survey indicated that the amount of private contracts in Michigan public schools has increased since 2001.
Author and policy analyst James Hohman broke the survey down into three categories of support services: transportation, custodial, and food. Out of the three, food privatization is the slowest growing private contractor.
Hohman’s survey reflected that more than 30 percent of Michigan’s town and rural school districts have signed private food contractors in the past 10 years.
“We noticed some difference, there are smaller and rural schools that don’t contract out as much,” Hohman said. “Contracting is rarer in Hillsdale county.”
Hillsdale Community Schools shows little growth toward this trend. For the past 15 years, HCS has employed Chartwells Services as its food management contractor. Chartwells Services is a branch off of Michigan’s largest company in food services, The Compass Group, which is based in the United Kingdom. Most of the employees under food services are paid by the school district, but the service runs under Food Director Laura Call, a Chartwells Services employee.
Although HCS involvement in private contracting is not reflected in the survey categories, the district does contract out in other small areas such as lawn maintenance.
“We do have certain obligations that require us to bid projects out,” said HCS Business Manager Patty Knapp . “But that decision isn’t made by one person. It first comes from the finance committee and then the board.”
The largest trend difference between rural districts and statewide statistics is in transportation contracts. In rural districts, 16 percent of schools contract out transportation service while
statewide more than 20 percent use private transportation services.
Last year, almost twothirds of Michigan school districts contracted private food, custodial, or
transportation services. Hohman’s survey shows that out of the three services, private transportation contracts have been growing the most, despite its initial dwindling private contracting.
The survey states that from 2012 2013 the “proportion of districts using private companies to provide transportation services increased from 16.4 percent to 20.9 percent.” Five years ago, only 6 percent of school districts in Michigan contracted out transportation services.
Custodial service contracts in Michigan schools increased from 39 percent to 45 percent between 2012 and 2013. Only 6 percent of schools privatized custodial services 10 years ago.
“Privatization has shown to save money for smaller school districts,” Hohman said. “We’re looking at our government services, and how we can better provide these things. The answer is you need to contract out.”