More than 37 percent of Michigan school districts contract out for at least one of the three major noninstructional services. Out of a sense of collegiality and professional courtesy, many officials in districts that contract a service will be happy to answer questions from their peers in other districts, give facility tours and discuss how their private contractors operate.
During the privatization process, private vendors that have submitted a proposal to a district will typically invite board members and the superintendent on a tour of another building or district where the vendor is already established. Officials should take these tours but remain careful not to rely on them, because a vendor will naturally select only the gems they wish to showcase. Prudence dictates that officials themselves should select schools districts contracting with particular vendors and tour the facilities without the vendor present. Doing so makes it easier to interview a vendor’s staff and to talk to students and school personnel about the contractor’s performance.
Writing in the April 1998 issue of The American School Board Journal, education experts William Keane and Samuel Flam listed the site visit as one of the top six things district officials can do to reduce opposition:
“We cannot emphasize enough how important it is to see a privatization experiment with your own eyes. But seeing it is only part of your responsibility. You also need to ask tough questions, such as: How much money has privatization saved? How many district employees were laid off as a result of privatization? And, how has the quality of the privatized service improved or declined? If you don’t get straight answers and concrete examples, you should be concerned.”
Keane and Flam have years of experience in Michigan as upper-level district officials and education consultants. They are also the authors of the book “Public Schools Private Enterprise: What You Should Know and Do About Privatization,” which makes many useful points about the privatization process not specifically addressed in this primer. I recommend the book as important background reading.