The privatization survey was conducted by telephone between April 25 and June 30, 2007. The vast majority of respondents were either district superintendents or school business officers. After concluding the initial series of interviews, one of the authors [Smith] called every district that reported having contracted with a private firm for either food, busing or custodial services and confirmed their responses.

A cutoff date of June 30 was chosen to coincide with the end of the 2006-2007 fiscal school year. At this cutoff date, there were a significant number of districts still looking at contracting for the 2007-2008 school year. Please see the section titled "2007 Survey Results" for more detail on this subject.

To ensure accurate comparisons from year to year, the Mackinac Center has developed a framework for what constitutes privatization in each of the three primary services that were examined. In general, a school district is considered to have privatized if it had moved responsibility for one of the big three non-teaching services (food, custodial and transportation) from district provision to private provision to some degree.

For example, a district was counted as having privatized its food service regardless of whether the FSMC simply managed an existing program and staff or took over an entire program, including providing its own employees. A few districts share their food services or food service director. If the shared food service director is obtained under contract through an FSMC, the Center counted it as a privatized service for both districts.

There were four districts in 2007 operating under this scenario. Summerfield Schools and Whiteford Agricultural Schools share a Sodexho School Services food service manager.[3] As district food service employees retire, they are to be replaced with employees of the private company, thus expanding the responsibility of the FSMC over time. On June 26, 2007, the Homer Community Schools Board of Education voted 7-0 to share a Chartwells School Dining director with Litchfield Community Schools.[4]

Custodial services were viewed as having been privatized if the district hired a private vendor to clean at least one of its buildings. One district, Paw Paw Public Schools, contracts for its custodians through a temporary employee service.[5] The Center included this district as having privatized its services.

Transportation was counted as having been privatized if at least one bus route was operated under contract with a private vendor. Only one district, Potterville Public Schools, reported contracting for busing services for just one route.[6] There were three districts that effectively privatized their transportation by eliminating transportation altogether, though two of these districts contract with a private, for-profit vendor for special events. The Mackinac Center did not count eliminating district busing wholesale or simply contracting for special events in its privatization tally.iii

Nor did it include as privatized (in 2007) any district that contracted with another unit of government for busing services.

There are six districts statewide that contract for transportation with some form of a transit authority. They include Baldwin Community Schools, Ionia Public Schools, Manistee Area Public Schools, Kalkaska Public Schools, Rapid River Public Schools and the Saginaw City School District.iv

The Center survey also excludes busing contracts related to special education.

In the course of conducting this year’s survey, the authors learned that several districts that had reported privatized services were actually contracting with other units of government. The Center has revised its past figures to accommodate these changes, which are reflected in the modestly different year-to-year totals presented below.

iii Districts that effectively privatized by eliminating transportation but were not counted as contracting transportation are Lincoln Park Public Schools, Lakeview Public Schools and Hager Township School District 6.

iv Several of these districts contract with a private, for-profit firm for either food or custodial services.