Of the districts contracting for food, transportation or custodial services, 209 of 232 (90 percent) reported being satisfied with their respective contracting experiences, while only three districts (1.3 percent) reported not being satisfied. The remaining 20 districts were either unsure of their satisfaction or refused to answer the question.
Graphic 10: Satisfaction from Outsourcing
High rates of self-reported satisfaction are consistent with previous years. While self-reporting may include a degree of district bias, the Center believes firmly that the numbers deserve more than passing attention. It would be irresponsible of district officials (and would undermine their work) if they consistently reported high levels of satisfaction for contracting if high satisfaction was in fact not the case.
Private contracts are frequently under scrutiny of district officials and critics whose personal financial self-interest is vested in traditional (and expensive) district employees. Superintendents and business managers — who make up the majority of our respondents — have little incentive to routinely misreport satisfaction for services that have disappointed them.
Poor performance is obvious, and officials find it easier to correct poorly performing employees when those employees are easy to fire. Moreover, contractors are far easier to fire in their entirety, which means intense dissatisfaction can be easily remedied. That's not the case with unionized employees in a collective bargaining unit.
Lastly, while selection bias can exist in more than Michigan-specific surveys, the authors wish to point out that positive satisfaction exists in other privatization surveys. Surveys of Virginia public schools by Barry Yost, New Jersey school districts by Ken May, and large American cities by Rob Dilger, Randy Moffett and Linda Struyk all include self-reported, generally non-negative satisfaction with private service [*]
[*] Yost, Barry D. "Privatization of Educational Services by Contractual Agreement in Virginia Public Schools," Ed.D., Virginia Polytechnic University, 2000.
May, Kenneth P. "An Investigation into the Role of the Privatization of Non-Instructional Services Provided by New Jersey Public School Districts," Ed.D., Seton Hall, 1998.
Dilger, Robert Jay, Moffett, Randolph R., and Struyk, Linda. "Privatization of municipal services in America's largest cities," Public Administration Review, Vol. 57, 1. 1997.