MIDLAND—The Mackinac Center for Public Policy has guaranteed that it would obtain the $350,000 the Redford Union School District needs to retain eight public school teachers who have been reassigned due to budget cuts.  Earlier this year, the cuts prompted parents to raise money through bake sales, magic shows, and other means to keep children with their teachers. 

In a Feb. 2 letter to Superintendent Thomas Gay, Mackinac Center Senior Vice President Joseph Overton stated that the district could save well over $350,000 by outsourcing non-instructional services such as transportation, cafeteria and janitorial services to private firms.  If an outsourcing plan fails to yield the needed savings while maintaining or improving current service quality, the Center would pay Redford Schools the difference up to $350,000.

"We sometimes lose sight of the simple fact that children are the focus of our school system, and that teachers are the ones who work hard each day to make a difference in their lives," Overton wrote.  "If we have to choose between overly expensive support services and teachers, we say protect the teachers."  According to the Mackinac Center, Michigan ranks dead last in the nation in terms of limiting public education overhead.  Only 46 percent of Michigan public education employees are teachers.  Other states place as much as 63 percent of their public education employees in the classroom.

Under the proposal, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy would work with the district—free of charge—to evaluate the current costs of non-instructional services, draft requests for proposals (RFPs) from private vendors, ensure an open and competitive bidding process, and evaluate bids.  The district would be required to accept bids from reputable firms that met the specifications of the RFP and resulted in cost savings.  If a $350,000 savings was not realized, the Mackinac Center would pay the difference up to the entire $350,000 required to restore the teachers' positions or otherwise lower the student-to-teacher ratio.

"Increasingly, the challenge in public education is not the overall amount we are spending, but how it is being spent." said Overton.  "With parents sacrificing to raise additional money for the district, the least we can do is assure that current school resources are being spent wisely."

"Unfortunately, Redford has not accepted our offer yet," Overton said Mar. 1.  "The primary opponents of outsourcing non-instructional services are the school employee labor unions—and Redford is a stronghold for the Michigan Education Association.  The irony is that the union—which purports to represent the best interests of teachers—is more than likely preventing us from saving teachers' jobs." 

Overton cited the union's recently published 2001-2002 "Quality Education Agenda" that opposes the privatization of transportation, cafeteria, and janitorial services, even when outsourcing improves quality and provides more money for teachers.  Currently, Redford does not contract out for any of these non-instructional services.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is a research and educational institute that has led Michigan education reform efforts, most notably on school choice, and publishes a quarterly education journal, Michigan Education Report, and a quarterly privatization journal, Michigan Privatization Report.  The Center has consulted with many Michigan school districts to identify ways to improve the delivery of education services.

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