Opposition to Privatization

The previous section dealt with numerous technical aspects of the competitive bidding process. As important as those issues are to successful privatization, however, a discussion of the contracting of school support services would be incomplete without a discussion of opposition to privatization. Employees of a district considering privatization will naturally be concerned about their future employment. Their union, in addition to its concern for the workers, will face the prospect of fewer union jobs and fewer dues-paying members. Indeed, a public fight with the opponents of privatization is almost guaranteed once a district’s intent to competitively contract is known.

This fight can be surprisingly harsh — and not just in big districts accustomed to rough-and-tumble politics. In 2000 and 2001, the Arvon Township Public Schools, with an 11-member student body, debated privatizing transportation, food and janitorial services that were costing up to 38 percent of the district’s $260,000 budget.[115] Contracting would have cut about 30 percent from the cost of providing the services in-house.[116] Arvon’s district officials stated that they had hoped to use the savings for a school improvement program.[117]

Mary Rogala, then president of the Arvon district’s board of education, reported that the board began experiencing trouble from the moment it announced its intention to privatize. The Michigan Education Association, a school employees union that represented five Arvon employees, served the Board with an unfair labor practices complaint and took the district to court.[118]

Despite the opposition, the board approved the privatization plan on a 3‑2 vote. Shortly after this vote, Rogala recounted, one member called a special meeting to rescind his vote after saying that a number of threats had been made against him and his business.[li][119] This reversal temporarily forced the board to abandon the privatization.

Passions will also run high at board meetings. Shouts, catcalls and angry language are common, and the meetings are made more uncomfortable by the larger turnout and the probable presence of reporters and television cameras.

[li] A five-minute Mackinac Center video of this story is posted here.