This article originally appeared in the Detroit News on April 01, 2001 at http://detnews.com/2001/editorial/0104/01/a14-206461.htm .

By The Detroit News

The Issue

  • How should Redford Union public schools deal with a budget crisis? Redford Union schools face a $1.3 million deficit.

Redford Union schools face a $1.3 million deficit. Last week, the school board fired its superintendent. Layoffs and closings loom.

So it is fair to say the district has drifted into trouble, if not turmoil.

At the same time, Redford Union officials have turned a cold shoulder to ideas that could save taxpayers an estimated $350,000.

The school board should open the door wide to all avenues of financial help.

The proposed $350,000 savings are touchy in that they involve outsourcing or competitively bidding out some school functions to private companies or in-house employees. That raises the "P" word -- privatization -- which in turn raises the hackles of school employees and others represented by unions.

The story goes back to February, when the Mackinac Center for Public Policy said it could minimize Redford teacher layoffs. Cost cutting in areas such as transportation, cafeteria and janitorial services could pick up $350,000, said the center, a pro-privatization think tank based in Midland.

Mackinac is so certain of its plan, it guaranteed it. That is, if the center could not come up with ways to save $350,000, Mackinac would pay any shortfall out of its own pocket.

"If we have to choose between overly expensive support services and teachers, we say protect the teachers," says Joseph Overton, senior vice-president at Mackinac.

At a minimum, the center would work on Redford's problems for free as an unpaid consultant. Outside consultants usually expect districts to pay for their cost-cutting advice.

Mackinac was attracted to Redford by newspaper stories on bake sales parents held last winter to raise money for the troubled district. An ungrateful board at first rejected the bake sale money, perhaps out of sheer embarrassment at having let the budget slide into disrepair. But it later accepted the funds.

After all, Redford needed money and over the years had established a reputation for providing a solid education.

The district's financial problems, however, have been long coming. Enrollment slipped 11 percent to 4,800 students since 1993, largely because of demographic shifts in that corner of Wayne County. Fewer students mean less state funding.

School officials say the Mackinac proposal has not been outright rejected. But it is on the back burner.

It should be placed on the front burner. School districts exist to serve students, not the district's employees. If a better education can be provided by competitively bidding some non-classroom jobs, then that's a route the district owes its parents and students to explore.

Cutting costs to save teaching jobs seems reason enough to set quibbles aside. Pursuing competitive bidding would be in the interest of balancing the budget and shoring up Redford Union's reputation as a solid school district.

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