From April 25 through June 30, 2007, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy conducted its fifth survey of the privatization of bus, food and janitorial services among Michigan’s 552 conventional public school districts. All Michigan school districts responded.

Privatization of at least one of these "big three" school support services rose to 221 districts, or 40.0 percent of all conventional public school districts. This figure represents a 7.1 percent increase from 2006, when the percentage was 37.4 percent, and an estimated increase of nearly 29.1 percent since 2001, when the percentage was 31.0 percent.[*]

According to the 2007 survey, 164 conventional public school districts in Michigan — 29.7 percent of all districts — contract for food services of some type. Some districts simply hire companies to manage the existing staff, while others allow the staff of the vendor to provide every aspect of the service. Food service contracting increased 3.6 percent from the 2006 survey.

In 2007, the Mackinac Center also conducted a nationwide survey of state education departments to determine the rate at which U.S. school districts contract with food service management companies.[†] Only 13.2 percent of conventional public school districts in the nation contract with such companies — less than half the Michigan rate. Indeed, among the states, Michigan’s food service contracting rate is fourth, behind only Rhode Island, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The 2007 Michigan survey also found that 14.3 percent of Michigan districts said that they were contracting for custodial services to some degree. This figure indicates a higher rate of growth for this service than for the other two. For the second year in a row, the number of districts contracting for janitorial services increased by a staggering 25.2 percent.

According to the 2007 survey, privatization of school bus transportation is an area in which Michigan lags the nation. Only 4.3 percent of Michigan’s conventional public school districts contract for transportation services, compared to estimates exceeding 30 percent for the nationwide rate. The Mackinac Center excluded from its calculations those districts that ended busing altogether and those that contract only for special education and field trip busing services.

Of the 221 conventional public school districts that contract for at least one of the big three services in Michigan, 172, or 77.8 percent, reported savings from privatization. Only 4.1 percent said that the contract had not saved them money. The remainder reported being unsure, in part because the contracts were too new.

A whopping 89.1 percent of the 221 contracting districts reported that the district was satisfied with its privatization experience. Less than 1 percent of respondents were dissatisfied. The remainder of districts were unsure if they were satisfied or not; this, too, may be a function of contracts being too new to be assessed.

The survey indicated that as of June 30, 2007, an additional 42 districts were considering privatization of food, custodial or transportation services for the 2007-2008 school year. Following completion of the survey, two districts contracted their custodial services, but those numbers are not included in this year’s survey totals.

[*] Note that not all of Michigan’s school districts responded to the 2001 survey, making the results an estimate. All districts ultimately responded in the surveys for 2006 and 2007.

[†] State education departments keep such figures as part of the federal government’s school lunch programs. States do not typically keep similar data for bus and custodial services privatization.