All 551 public school districts in Michigan cooperated with this year's survey. The number of districts decreased by one this year as White Pine Public Schools merged with the Ontonagon Area School District after experiencing low student counts over the past few years.

The privatization survey was conducted from May 26 through July 29, 2009, with the majority of responses received by telephone. The respondents were superintendents, business managers and assistant superintendents. Some districts requested a written copy of the survey questions, and others asked for a Freedom of Information Act request. These were submitted when requested.

The survey included questions on whether the district contracted out for support services and whether it had brought services back in-house.[*] If the district changed its service provision by either outsourcing or in-sourcing, they were asked to give their reasons, to name the company that provides the service (if applicable) and to define the differences in costs between the in-house and contracted services.

Districts that switched to a contracted service were asked to provide documentation on the cost savings. Not all provided comprehensive costs analyses, nor did they all use the same methods for estimating costs. Nevertheless, results provide context for annual cost differences between in-house and contracted services for the districts that contracted out this year.

We also asked districts whether they were satisfied with their contractors, regardless of whether they were new to contracting.

Determining whether a district uses private provision of services requires some judgment. Some districts use private contractors for only portions of services, as is the case for districts that contract out for food service management while keeping their own workforces to operate the kitchens and cafeterias. Districts also may hire companies for cleaning only certain buildings and grounds, or contract out for just special education transportation. Some districts contract with another school district or another governmental agency for all or part of a service. A district is only counted as having privatized when it hires a private company to provide all or part of a normal service to the district.

This also means that school districts that contract out with other districts and municipal governments are not included, as is the case when districts share a food service manager, as Adrian Public Schools and Blissfield Community Schools do. It would also exclude districts that contract with municipal transportation services for busing.

This year's survey found that 80 of the 162 districts that contract out for food service maintain their own food service labor force. Seven of the 38 transportation contracts are for management only, and four are for labor only.


[*] As part of other Mackinac Center education survey, we ask whether the district uses a MESSA plan to cover health benefits for teachers, whether recall petitions have been submitted against the district's school board members, and whether the district posts its checkbook register online.