This study was conducted between May 25 and Aug. 5, 2011. Each of the state’s 550 districts was contacted individually. The questions were answered most frequently by superintendents and business managers, and occasionally by assistant superintendents, CFOs, administrative assistants and human resources directors. The majority of districts responded to our questions via telephone. If a district requested the survey be submitted in writing or could not be reached by repeated phone calls, surveys were administered by email, facsimile or mail. In the rare case that a district could not provide the information requested, or provided inconsistent information, the local ISD was contacted.

The survey primarily focused on contracting for food, custodial and transportation services. If a district contracted for any of these services, follow-up questions included the name of the private company contracted with, the district’s satisfaction or lack thereof with that company, and whether that contract covered all or only part of the service in question (for example, many districts contract their food service manager while retaining the rest of their food service employees in-house).

If a district had begun contracting out a support service or brought a service back in-house within the past year, they were asked the reason for the change (for the majority of districts new to contracting, financial savings were the primary motivation). Districts were also asked for documentation detailing the savings to be gained from the change in service providers. Unfortunately, especially in cases of small-scale contracts covering only a few employees, not all districts could provide such documentation.

Even one regular private employee working in a district’s food, custodial or transportation services qualifies as privatization for the purposes of this survey. Such limited contracting is rare but does occur through retire-rehire programs. However, contracting for substitute employees does not count as privatization of a support service. In addition, contracting for limited, specialized support services is counted separately (contracting for special education transportation is not the same as contracting for transportation services in general).

The survey also included a question on service-sharing/consolidation. Many districts contract with neighboring districts or ISDs for certain services. While these contracts do not represent privatization (because no private company is involved), they do represent a valuable option for saving money in many districts.

Finally, districts were asked if they offered MESSA health insurance to any of their employees.