Most Michigan School Districts Privatize Services

Lansing looking to join the growing trend

Outsourcing in Michigan school districts.

The Lansing School District is considering privatizing custodial services. The Lansing State Journal first reported the development in mid-July, and July 29 was the deadline for service providers to submit bids. With almost 12,000 students, Lansing is one of the state’s largest school districts.

In Michigan and around the country, privatizing custodial services has saved school districts money. For example, the rural Ludington school district saved $150,000, about $67 per student. Lansing’s neighbor, the Okemos Public Schools, saved $600,000 — or $150 per student.

If it follows through, the Lansing district will join nearly 260 others across Michigan that have privatized custodial services, a trend documented by the Mackinac Center’s annual privatization survey. In 2003, only 6.6 percent of Michigan districts contracted for custodial services. By 2014, the number had climbed to 47.5 percent, including some of the state’s largest districts, such as Detroit, Ann Arbor, Rochester, Troy, and Kalamazoo. Moreover, nearly 90 percent of these districts reported being satisfied with their third-party vendors.

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The move would complement Lansing’s already-privatized services. The Mackinac Center surveys found the district privatized food services in 2007, and transportation in 2014. Lansing is already a leader among the half of Michigan school districts that are using competitive bidding to save taxpayer dollars and get the best value on these support services.

Unions that benefit from the noncompetitive status quo claim privatization would lead to greater unemployment. To the extent there is any validity to the claim, it is purely temporary and transitional. But even if true, public schools are not supposed to be a government jobs program for union members. Instead, their purpose is to provide a quality education at the lowest possible cost to taxpayers.

Money saved from competitive bidding can contribute to both of those goals, quality and cost. Rather than pursuing tax increases, school districts should instead consider tools like privatization that can save money over the long run. As the Mackinac Center’s Michael LaFaive says, “These new and newly liberated dollars could help keep more and better teachers in the classroom.”

Lansing can also use those dollars to raise standards and do other things that contribute to the district’s proclaimed mission of providing “educational excellence in a safe and nurturing environment for all students.” Educational quality for the next generation is important, and the money saved here can be used toward better school services for its students.

Lansing School District spokesman Bob Kolt said in an email that the district would have to delay a substantive response because key administrators are on summer break.