GRAND RAPIDS — Earlier this year, in a move long recommended by Michigan Privatization Report, six Muskegon-area school districts began analyzing ways to save money by jointly contracting out for services, according to WOOD-TV. Originally, 11 Kent County districts were intrigued by the idea, but that number was whittled down to six as the county’s intermediate school district began preparing a formal "request for proposal."

The six districts (Fruitport, Oakridge, Reeths-Puffer, Holten, Muskegon Heights and Whitehall) were looking to privatize their busing services as a group. Several of Kent County’s districts have combined their special education busing and are happy with their contracted services. This consortium has since unraveled, but the size of the group and the willingness of each district to work through a request-for-proposal process may signal that more and larger consortiums could be coming.

The March 25 edition of The Muskegon Chronicle reported that only one firm had submitted a bid to operate busing at all six school districts. Bids were solicited by the local intermediate school district on behalf of the consortium. Initially, eleven organizations were contacted about providing the service. Only one company, Pioneer Resources, responded. Pioneer Resources is a 50-year-old not-for-profit that provides busing services for the elderly, handicapped and children involved in Head Start, according to The Chronicle. Head Start is a program designed to get disadvantaged children on the road to learning earlier than other students.

Under the bid specifications, the district would have continued to own the buses and employ the mechanics that maintain them, as well as determine the bus routes. The private firm would have managed the employees and handled compensation issues.

As long as schools continue to face declining enrollment they will face cost pressures. It is very likely that group privatizations will become the "undiscovered country" of competitive contracting among government institutions.