WILLOW RUN—The legislature in 1994 made it easier for school districts to outsource for school support services. Ever since, cafeteria, custodial, transportation and other functions have been going private at a rapid pace. (The state's largest union of cooks, bus drivers, janitors and teachersthe Michigan Education Associationeven contracts for private nonunion services at its own East Lansing headquarters.) Among the more recent additions to the school privatization roster is Willow Run Community School District near Ann Arbor.

Prompted by soaring costs, the Willow Run school board voted unanimously on October 15 to contract with Aramark Corporation to take over the management of the district's food service program. The board hopes to get costs under control without sacrificing quality, and has arranged for the district's food service employees to remain on staff as employees of the district.

Aramark brings seasoned management, bulk buying, and the expertise that comes from successful experience in dozens of other schools. If things work the way the board expects, the district should be able to substantially cut the more than $125,000 annual subsidy it provides the food service program. The district's director of finance told the Ypsilanti Press, "They'll have the ability to computerize the pages of reports required by the state. They'll be able to modernize the operation, such as offering a system where students will be able to pay in advance for their lunches, and use a plastic swipe card to draw on their account. And they'll be better able to keep up with changing regulations."