The 1990 Oldsmobile sedan, shown here, was purchased by the district for $21,259 and is one of two cars dedicated for use by the general superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools.
The Detroit Public Schools has been in distress for yearsfinancially and
otherwise. It has been plagued by deficits. Some vendors have not been paid for services
rendered, while others have received more than the amounts authorized by school officials.
Financial record keeping is lax, and upwards of $60 million in voter-approved bond money
may have been diverted to salaries and other unauthorized expenditures. Despite these
difficulties, the current and past superintendents have had access to a district-financed
car and driver.
Servant or CEO?
In the 1970s, the Michigan Legislature voted to punish districts who provide
chauffeur-driven limousines for school board members and employees. The reasoning was as
clear then as it is today: Public schools exist to educate children, not to provide a
pampered lifestyle for school employees at the publics expense.
The fine for providing district employees with their own car and driver was a state
school aid deduction equal to whatever amount the offending district had spent providing
the transportation service. A 1997 article in The Detroit News placed that amount at about
$60,000. But the district has and continues to skirt the ban on luxurious
transportationbecause the costly deduction exists so far as only a threat.
Why is the fine just a threat? According to state records obtained by Michigan
Privatization Report, the last time the Detroit Public Schools reported chauffeur
expenses was in fiscal year 1993-94. In each year since, the Detroit school district has
claimed that it spent "0" on chauffeur services, even though it has actually
According to Lynn Metty, legal counsel for the Detroit Public Schools, David Snead, the
former general superintendent, had persuaded state officials to accept that his driver was
not a "chauffeur," but a "security officer." This matter of semantics
has so far allowed the district to avoid the nearly $60,000 penaltyeven despite the
continued use of this "security officer" service by interim Superintendent Eddie
Technically, the district owns two automobiles for chauffeuring purposes: a 1992 Buick
Park Avenue and a 1990 Oldsmobile sedan. The Oldsmobile cost the district $21,259 and the
Park Avenue cost $23,017. The cars were purchased outright, and no monthly loan payments
were necessary. According to the districts records, a third car, a Lincoln, was
leased to the district at $350 per month. The lease was paid in full and in advance in
1994 by Mr. Nathan Conyers, the owner of Riverside Ford, the company that leased the car
to the district. Despite the "free" lease, district records show an expenditure
of $5,877 for repairs prior to returning the car to Riverside Ford. In an unexplained
twist, the service fleet roster of the district shows the cost of the car at $20,000, as
if it were owned by the district.
Keeping the cars in service has not been cheap: Insurance costs the district $3,194 per
year, and maintenance costs for the three cars from July, 1996 through June, 1997, was
$9,384. The superintendents driver receives a salary of $118 per day. Assuming a
five-day work week (240-day work year), the district pays $28,492 per year for the
chauffeurs salary. This figure does not include any health insurance and other
non-cash benefits, which may be substantial.
According to Metty, the amount of school aid that would have been deducted from the
Detroit Public Schools system due to the violation reflects only the cost of the
chauffeur, not lease payments, repair, or gasoline. If the superintendents driver
receives a wage of $118 daily ($28,492 annually) it suggests that the rest of the $59,900
claimed by the district as chauffeur expenses during the 1993-94 school year is the cost
of fringe benefits.
According to state records obtained by Michigan Privatization Report,
the last time the Detroit Public Schools reported chauffeur expenses was in fiscal year
1993-94. In each year since, the Detroit school district has claimed that it spent
"0" on chauffeur services, even though it has actually spent thousands.
While chief executive officers of companies with payrolls exceeding $1 billion often
enjoy the luxury of a corporate car and driver, the general superintendent does not work
for such a company. He is instead a politically appointed servant directed to oversee the
education of children and as such, has a responsibility to manage public monies wisely and
Assume for the sake of argument that the general superintendent of the Detroit Public
Schools does need a full-time car and driver, eight hours per day, five days per week.
Competitive contracting could improve the superintendents transportation service
while cutting costs to the district.
MPR conducted a telephone survey of limousine companies in and around Detroit
and found that several firms rent sedans newer than the one currently used by the Detroit
school district, complete with driver, for about $35 per hour per day. Additionally, every
company contacted offered an even lower rate for a one-year agreement. Assuming a
conservative estimate of $33 per hour per day and an 8-hour day and 240-day work year, the
cost of outsourcing the superintendents limousine service is $264 per day or $63,360
What is the districts current total cost of operating its own chauffeur service
in-house, with two cars at the superintendents disposal? Spreading out the one-time
payments for the two cars over 240 work days for each year since their purchase results in
a per-working-day expense of $23.54. Insurance is $8.76 per day (in 1996 dollars) and
repairs, based on 1996-97 maintenance figures cost $14.60 per day. Adding each of these to
the daily rate of $249.58 (which includes estimated non-cash benefits) paid to the
district chauffeur yields a total of $287.48 in daily operational costs, or $68,995.20 per
By contracting out with a private firm the Detroit Public Schools could save over
$5,600 annually. In addition, limousine companies usually factor daily gasoline usage into
their cost structure. The total cost of operating a chauffeur service in-house excludes
the cost of gasoline because, MPR is told, the Detroit Board of Education simply
doesnt keep those records. The savings also do not include the amount the district
would receive by selling its current two-car fleet. Lastly, a private vendor would be
providing a much newer, more luxurious and safer vehicle in which the superintendent could
The Detroit Public Schools could redirect thousands of dollars back to the classroom
while improving the quality of its officials transportation just by outsourcing this
one perquisite of the Detroit general superintendent.