Representative Gerald Law of Plymouth introduced legislation that would practically neuter Public Act 112, while providing binding arbitration for noninstructional school support staff.
Parents, children, teachers and taxpayers all expect to get the best education possible
for the dollars spent by the public schools. If they knew what quietly slipped through the
Michigan House of Representatives recently, they would be asking why many legislators do
not feel the same way.
Countless studies have shown that more than money, schools need better money
management. When schools spend more than is necessary to keep the buildings clean, or
to feed and transport the kids, they have less to spend for classroom instruction. A
little more than three years ago, the legislature gave school boards wider latitude for
improving quality and saving money by making it easier for them to put school support
services up for competitive bid. As part of Public Act (PA) 112 of 1994, the legislature
took the privatization of these services off the list of mandatory topics for the
PA112 upset certain peoplemost notably leaders of the
Michigan Education Association(MEA), the state's largest union of janitors, cooks, bus
drivers and teachers.
That upset certain peoplemost notably leaders of the Michigan Education
Association (MEA), the states largest union of janitors, cooks, bus drivers and
teachers. As school districts all across the state began to exercise their new rights
under PA 112, privatization became a popular toolfor both improving service and
cutting costs. But improving service and cutting costs arent what the MEA is all
about so this past June, it prevailed on a majority of the Michigan House to undo the 1994
law. The House of Representatives passed H.B. 4775, legislation that would place Michigan
school boards, once again, in the position of having to negotiate the privatization of
noninstructional services with the union.
In addition to forcing noninstructional outsourcing issues back to the bargaining
table, the House bill would create a system of binding arbitration for all nonteaching
school employees. Binding arbitration is normally reserved for critical areas of public
sector work to protect public safety, ensuring that police and firefighters do not strike.
H.B. 4775 would permit bus drivers, school janitors, cafeteria workers, and hall monitors
to use binding arbitration whenever a dispute arose in the school, effectively forcing
school boards to halt any efforts to privatize in-house services.
The crux of this issue is whether a public school employer should have the flexibility
to outsource certain noninstructional jobs. If a school district finds a way to save money
and improve serviceswhether that is in the lunchroom, transportation or
maintenanceshould a teachers union or arbitrator be able to block the proposed
The MEA, it should be noted, does not oppose every instance of contracting out. With
few exceptions, it just doesnt like it when school boards do it. As the Mackinac
Center for Public Policy revealed in 1994, the MEA has frequently engaged in the practice
itselfcontracting out for its cafeteria, janitorial, security and mailing functions
at its own East Lansing headquarters, and often with nonunion firms!
Kevin Harty, of the Lansing law firm Thrun, Maatsch & Nordberg, P.C., which
represents over 400 of Michigans school boards, has pointed out that the contracting
provision of PA 112 has proven to be very important. It has freed school boards to seek
contracts with private vendors without being badgered about it during negotiations.
Enacting binding arbitration for noninstructional employees, Harty states, would be
"absolute suicide." It would cripple the ability of elected boards to manage
their districts fiscal affairs and divert their attention from the classroom.
Anita Gugala Petrosky, author of 1994 PA 112: Shifting the Balance of Power
In Public School Employee Collective Bargaining, notes that school districts need to
reform their fiscal policies because of Proposal A (the shift in public school financing
from local property taxes to other mechanisms) and changes to the school code.
Privatization offers one possible avenue for saving valuable school funds. Harty
emphasizes that considering privatization is a healthy process even if the final decision
is to not do it because "it is enough to have that option available to make schools
According to the most recent National Center for Education Statistics survey,
Michigans noninstructional services account for 18 percent of all public school
expenditures, or more than $2 billion annually. Shaving just 15 percent off a $2 billion
bill through competitive contracting would save $300 million annuallythats
$300 million in scarce resources that could be put to use in the classroom. Instances
where privatization has saved 15 percent or more in costs are commonplace.
The Senate has yet to render a judgment on H.B. 4775. If it keeps its collective mind
on what schools are really for"education"it will realize that both
houses did the right thing in 1994 and allow H.B. 4775 to die as quietly as it was born.