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News Special Report


Dean Transportation’s ability to infuse Grand Rapid Public Schools in Michigan with technology is one reason why contracting is a win-win proposition.


to privatization in Michigan, where the recession hit hard and new Right-to- Work and collective bargaining laws have gone into effect. Last year, 71 percent of Michigan


Roads Leading to (or Away from) Contracted Services


WRITTEN BY JULIE METEA L


ong-term relationships can come from a simple school bus ride. Stu- dents spend a lot of time with their peers, trading stories about their


classes, sports victories and fun field trips. Tey may not even notice the bus driver, the common denominator to relationships both inside the bus and outside with the district’s administrative office. While safety bears much weight on run- ning a school bus operation, there are other factors influencing how transportation is structured, whether its in-house or out- sourced. Decisions are often shaped by finan- cials, regulation, trust and deep relationships as well as how individual states choose to manage transportation services.


DIFFERENT STATES, DIFFERENT CONTRACT RATES


Te Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a


conservative, pro-business research organiza- tion that champions privatization and Right to Work efforts, found vast differences in the way non-academic services are provided in U.S. school districts. A recent survey not only detected erratic patterns in state-by-state pri- vatization, it claimed that relationships run as deep as concerns for a balanced financial sheet.


24 School Transportation News • APRIL 2016 Te Center studied 2,861 school districts in


five states (Georgia, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsyl- vania and Texas) to quantify the percentages of contracts for custodial, food and transpor- tation services. Te research found anomalies in outsourcing, which range from a low of 17 percent of school districts in Ohio to a high of 75 percent of districts in Pennsylvania. Te high concentration in Pennsylvania


reflects a tradition of bus contracting dating back to the early 1900s, explained the study’s co-author. It’s a phenomenon also seen in the eastern and Midwestern parts of the country. “Tey have very personal relationships.


It’s like family that has been doing it a long time,” said Michael LaFaive, director of fiscal policy at the Center and author of several books on privatization.


On the other end of the spectrum, many


states tread lightly on privatization. Te low- est overall contracting rate is in Ohio, where the study found that only 7 percent of school districts outsourced transportation services. While nearly all school districts in Georgia outsource their custodial services, only three districts use bus contractors. In Texas, only 4 percent of school districts used private transportation firms last year. Te research identified drastic migration


school districts contracted at least one of the three major non-instructional ser- vices. Notably, there was high conversion to contracting transportation and custo- dial services. History will soon determine the direction of services within financially struggling Detroit Public Schools, where union frustration and lawsuits escalate in the wake of teacher sick-outs. “Unions don’t have resources like they


did before to hold ground,” said LaFaive. “Vendors are working hard to convince Michigan school districts to save money by converting to contracted transporta- tion. And research shows that privatiza- tion—done right—can save money and improve services.”


HAPPY TRAILS IN MICHIGAN Trough a transformation plan 10


years ago, Grand Rapids Public Schools near the Lake Michigan shore transi- tioned to a contracted school bus fleet operated by Dean Transportation, a regional, family-run business for nearly 60 years. Te district chose to sell its school buses and received a one-time cash infusion for the sale of the assets. On behalf of the district, Dean


invested in nearly 100 new school buses equipped with electronic child reminder systems and GPS tracking systems. It implemented training programs that exceeded State of Michigan require- ments. And it brought in advanced route planning software to help transport more than 8,000 students. Within five years, the district claims


to have saved more than $19 million through the partnership. “We proactively work to identify


customer efficiencies and develop con- tract pricing to immediately pass those


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