Think Tank Leader Dies In Plane Crash

Joseph P. Overton (1960-2003)

Joseph P. Overton

Joseph P. Overton, 43, of Midland, passed away Monday, June 30, 2003, as a result of injuries sustained in a plane crash. Joe was born on Jan. 4, 1960 in South Haven, Mich., to Kathryn J. Overton and the late Lawrence G. Overton. Joe Overton was senior vice president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which publishes Michigan Privatization Report.

Joe served as a volunteer for the Mackinac Center early in its history and joined the staff full-time in January 1992, eventually attaining the position of senior vice president. Most Mackinac Center for Public Policy programs, publications or procedures at the Center carry his imprint.

In August 2000, Overton helped Arvon Township school district develop and implement a school excellance plan that included competitive contracting for transportation, food and janitorial services.

Overton's contributions to the Mackinac Center's remarkable growth and influence, and to the larger public policy debate in the state of Michigan, will be long lasting. He came aboard the Center when there were just two other employees and was a prime mover in the organization's growth, helping it to become the largest of some 40-research institutes of its kind outside Washington, D.C. His many accomplishments can be found on the Mackinac Center's Web site, at www.mackinac.org, and they include many publications and concepts that advanced the cause of school choice and education reform, which included privatization.

Joe believed that privatization could be a powerful management tool for school districts. He recognized that, done properly, schools could free themselves of ancillary duties — such as running busing or cafeteria operations — and save precious financial resources in the process. Those resources could then be reinvested in the classroom. This was far more than a theoretical exercise for Joe. He was always looking for ways to get ideas into the public square. For instance:

  • In 1994 Overton read a short document entitled "Parameters," which was published by the Michigan Education Association (MEA) and detailed the organization's opposition to outsourcing. The MEA is the state's largest union of cooks, janitors, bus drivers and teachers. It occurred to him then that the MEA likely outsourced for services at their headquarters despite opposing the practice in districts with whom the MEA bargains. He was right. As it turns out, the MEA outsourced for cafeteria, food, security and mailing services — and in three out of four cases with nonunion firms. It was the publicity surrounding this discovery that helped lawmakers pass Public Act 112, which took privatization off the table of subjects that could be bargained over by the unions.

  • In August 2000, Overton helped Arvon Township school district develop and implement a school excellence plan that included competitive contracting for transportation, food and janitorial services. The plan would save the 13-student, one-school district more than $20,000, which was reinvested in the school itself. While the Michigan Education Association put up a debilitating fight to defeat the district, it eventually lost, and services were privatized.

He married the former Helen Rheem on March 29, 2003. The institutions and organizations in which he actively participated over the years include the Midland Morning Rotary Club, the State Policy Network, and the Michigan Appellate Defenders Commission. He also founded the Michigan Legal Foundation and USAVotes.org.