One of the most straightforward ways school districts can save money or improve services is to evaluate how they provide non–instructional services, such as transportation, food services, and maintenance. If private companies could provide these non–instructional school services better and/or cheaper than the school district itself, there is little reason for the district to continue providing these services.
Note that this is different from blindly privatizing these services. Districts should know their service costs and compare them to alternatives by soliciting and evaluating bid contracts. This process alone is beneficial to public school districts for two basic reasons. First, the bids show districts what options are available to them saving money or improving services. Second, districts can compare the bids to their own internal costs of providing these services. If districts are providing non-instructional services for less than it would cost to hire a private businesses (to perform the same services) then it would be fiscally irresponsible to outsource those services.
Outsourcing school-related operational services through competitive bidding is common throughout the nation. According to a 1997 survey by American School & University magazine, more than 40 percent of the nation’s school districts are contracting out for bus transportation and more than 21 percent are contracting out for food service. Philadelphia’s school district alone saved over $29 million in just two years by relying on privatized transportation, food service, custodial, and other functions. In a similar fashion, Chicago’s school district saved $20 million over three years by contracting out its bus service.