Many of Michigan’s public school districts are under substantial fiscal pressures from a combination of declining enrollment and increasing costs, particularly related to employee benefits. But most districts are responding to these challenges. One of the ways that districts can stretch their resources further is through competitive contracting for support services. Indeed, this 2013 survey of school districts shows that two-thirds of Michigan school districts contract out to private companies at least one of the three noninstructional services nearly all districts finance — food, custodial and transportation services.

In 2013, 65.5 percent of districts contracted out at least one of these three support services. This is up from 60.7 percent in 2012. In 2001, the first year we started surveying districts, only 31 percent of school districts contracted out one of these services.

Transportation contracting, the least frequently of these services to be contracted out, is increasing rapidly. The proportion of districts using private companies to provide transportation services increased from 16.4 percent to 20.9 percent from 2012 to 2013. Thirty districts began new contracts for transportation services in 2013. In 2008, only 6 percent of districts contracted out the service.

Custodial services are the most frequently contracted service, with 45.5 percent of districts using private contractors in 2013. This is an increase from 39.2 percent in 2012. These figures have grown steadily since 2003 when just 6.6 percent of districts used private contractors to clean and maintain district buildings.

Food service contracting is not growing as quickly as the other two services, but remains quite common. In 2013, 21 districts began new contracts for these services. The rates increased slightly, from 34.6 percent in 2012 to 36.5 percent in 2013.