Graphic 3 shows the results of the Mackinac Center’s surveys of Michigan school districts between 2001 and 2006. Although the 2001 survey involved only 250 of Michigan’s 552 school districts, the figures suggest an upward trend. The number of conventional school districts contracting bus, food or custodial services reached 37.7 percent in 2006 — roughly three school districts in eight.[xxiv][66] The approximately 2.2 percentage point increase from 2005 to 2006 represents a 6.2 percent single-year increase in the contracting rate.

Graphic 3: Percentage of Conventional Michigan School Districts
Competitively Contracting For Food, Bus or Custodial Services, 2001-2006

Graphic 3 - click to enlarge

Source: “Survey 2006: School Outsourcing Continues To Grow,” Mackinac Center for Public Policy, with author’s revisions. Surveys were not conducted in 2002 and 2004.
†This data was based on a partial sample of districts.
*Numbers revised from those originally published.

Graphic 4: Michigan School Districts Contracting
Bus, Food or Custodial Services, 2006

Graphic 4 - click to enlarge

Source: “Survey 2006: School Outsourcing Continues To Grow,” Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Food service privatization continues to be a perennial favorite among Michigan districts. According to the 2006 Mackinac Center survey, 159 of Michigan’s 552 conventional school districts contracted for food services to some degree — a contracting rate of 28.8 percent.[xxv]

Contracting for custodial services has accelerated in recent years. Mackinac Center privatization surveys in 2005 and 2006 showed year-over-year growth of 26 percent — an increase from 50 districts to 63. Press reports indicated that in 2006, public school districts from Reeths-Puffer in Muskegon to Avondale in Auburn Hills expected to save anywhere from $114 to $128 per student. Jackson Public Schools was reportedly expecting annual savings of $193 per student from their contract with a private provider.[67] In contrast, school transportation in Michigan is still overwhelmingly dominated by public providers.

The Mackinac Center surveys also indicate that the contracting of school support services in Michigan school districts has saved the districts money in the majority of cases. In the 2006 survey, 74.5 percent of Michigan districts that contracted for bus, food or janitorial services said that contracting had yielded savings, while 20.2 percent were unsure and 3.3 percent said it had not. Similarly, 90.9 percent of those districts said they were satisfied with their contracting, and only 5.3 percent said they were not.

Preliminary figures from the 2007 Mackinac Center survey indicate similar results: With 530 of the 552 Michigan districts responding, 79.9 percent have said that contracting saved money, and 90.7 percent said they were satisfied with the results.


[xxiv] The Mackinac Center’s 2007 school privatization survey was not complete at the time of publication of this primer.

[xxv] Chartwells School Dining is clearly the dominant food service contractor in school districts statewide. According to the Mackinac Center’s 2006 survey, more than 77 percent of the Michigan districts contracting for food services did so with Chartwells. The survey also showed that the company’s closest competitors, Aramark School Support Services and Sodexho School Services, had contracts with 11 districts each, giving each about 7 percent of the districts contracting food service.