When school boards entertain the idea of contracting out to provide a service, school employee unions often warn of the dangers of such actions. They usually claim districts will ultimately fail to save money (being victimized by predatory pricing schemes), will fill schools with uncaring and dangerous “strangers,” and will end providing poorer services.

This scenario played out in the Adrian school district three years ago when the board voted to contract out for transportation services. The Adrian Daily Telegram followed up on the claims made by the local Adrian unions back then and here’s what they found:

  1. "The district saved money. In addition to the initial savings, Adrian enjoyed three years of flat fees for transportation when nearly every other cost went up."
  2. "Adrian still has dedicated drivers who live in the community they serve. The implication that it would be otherwise was nothing but a red herring, and there’s nothing about getting a government paycheck that automatically makes a person more hardworking or virtuous than someone who works for a business."
  3. "Adrian’s bus fleet is newer and in better shape. Before privatization, Adrian’s pass rate on Michigan State Police bus inspections was nothing to brag about; after privatization, it’s consistently at or near 100 percent."

The editorial wisely concludes that contracting out might not necessarily be the best solution for every district all of the time. But there are still important lessons for districts considering it: Most of the union’s arguments against contracting out are just scare tactics aimed at protecting "their turf," and, if done well, contracting out can be a legitimate means to reduce costs and improve services.