Tought Leader

Survey Says! Bus Contracting Varies Widely


survey of more than 2,800 school districts conducted last summer suggests that the use of bus contracting varies widely

from state to state. Te Michigan-based Mackinac Center

for Public Policy surveyed every public school district in Pennsylvania, Michi- gan, Georgia, Texas and Ohio. Te goal was to determine the degree to which schools contract out for one of the three major noninstructional services: busing, janitorial and food services. Te Macki- nac Center has conducted similar surveys annually of just Michigan districts for more than a decade. Overall contracting rates—districts

purchasing at least one privatized ser- vice—ranged from a high of 75 percent in Pennsylvania to a low of 17 percent in Ohio. Te driving factor in the Keystone State’s substantial outsourcing rate was the widespread use of private transporta- tion firms. More than 66 percent of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts contract out for busing services. To put that figure in perspective, the second-highest rate of contracting in any state for any service was only 52 percent (for custodial outsourcing in Michigan). Te Great Lake State had the second-highest overall rate of school bus service contracts among the five states in the survey at 27 percent of 542 districts, up from just 4 percent in 2003.

Te school bus contracting business in

Pennsylvania—as with some other eastern states—is highly fragmented. It is com- mon, throughout the state, for a single district to contract with several different vendors. Te Tunkahannock Area School District, for example, employs 20 different firms to deliver transportation services for its students. In Michigan, school contracting grew slowly from 2003 to 2005, but has posted

30 School Transportation News • APRIL 2016

substantial gains since. From 2014 to 2015 alone, the school bus contracting rate increased by 12 percent. Privatization rates for custodial and food services have also seen significant growth over the last decade. Te growth of privatization in Mich- igan districts was influenced by at least three factors. First, the state adopted Public Act 112 in 1995, which—among other things—added privatization of non- instructional services to the list of topics that were not be subject to collective bargaining. In other words, unions could not negotiate anti-privatization clauses into their contracts. Second, Michigan experienced what some

observers call the “lost decade of growth.” From 2000 to 2010, the state’s poor econ- omy affected state finances, and in turn, school budgets. Increasing costs were out- pacing revenue growth, and many Michigan school boards simply had no choice but to seek out less expensive services. Lastly, the Mackinac Center for Public

Policy put competitive contracting on the radar of every school board superintendent and board member in the state. Our work

included publishing three school-specific privatization primers, an annual edu- cation-specific “Michigan Privatization Report,” journal and countless essays, press releases and events. Georgia could brag of the third-highest

overall contracting rate—37 percent—in the Mackinac Center’s survey. Georgia’s rate is almost entirely attributable to the use of private custodial services, with 37 per- cent of districts contracting out for those services. Less than 2 percent of districts in the Peach State use private transportation or food service firms. Similar to Georgia, Michigan once had an imbalanced privatization rate. In the early 2000s, food services dominated district outsourcing, but eventually busing and custodial contracting gained significant ground. Georgia may be ripe for similar growth. Districts do not fear outsourc- ing; they simply have yet to embrace it as robustly as they could. Texas followed Georgia in the rank- ings of the five states. Almost 23 percent of the 1,024 districts surveyed in Texas contract out for one of the three major

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