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In 2003, when it came to contracting out for common public school services, only outsourcing food provision could be considered a rather common occurrence in Michigan. And there was good reason for this: school districts are prohibited from making a profit from their cafeteria, but any deficits created in providing food for students must be covered by general school funds. When deficits occurred, school officials often looked for outside help from food service management companies.
Contracting out for the two other most common noninstructional school services — custodial and transportation services — was rare in 2003. Only one out of 15 districts contracted out for custodial services and even fewer for transportation — one out of 26.
Since 2003, however, there has been an explosion of privatization in these areas. This year, 47.5 percent of districts contract out for custodial services and 24 percent contract out for transportation services. Districts have largely been propelled to contract out for these services based on a desire to save money. The more efficiently districts can provide these noninstructional services, the more resources they can devote to their core function — providing educational opportunities to students.
In addition to this rationale, spending pressures, created in large part by rising employee health insurance and retirement costs, compelled districts to find ways to stretch dollars further. All school district employees are mandatory participants in the state-run Michigan Public School Employees’ Retirement System. Contribution rates for this program increased from 12.16 percent of payroll in 2001 to 34.54 percent of payroll in 2014. Most private sector employers offer retirement benefits that cost between five to seven percent of payroll on average.
These ever-increasing costs help explain why many districts have begun using employee leasing agencies, which allow employees to be paid at the same rates while districts escape the MPSERS payments. Interestingly, this may be a win-win, as employees get to vest their retirement benefits much earlier than under the MPSERS plan. According to Bellweather Education Partners, less than half of all school employees vest in MPSERS’s pension benefits.
This survey finds that in 2014 more school districts contracted out for food, custodial and transportation services than ever before. However, the rate of annual increase in the number of districts that contract out was less than in previous years. Contracting increased from 66.2 percent of districts in 2013 to 66.6 percent of districts in 2014. The average rate of increase over the last five years was 4.3 percentage points.
There may be a many factors contributing to this slowed rate of growth in school privatization. It could be that school support service privatization has topped out. In other words, there may come a time when all the districts that could contract out for quality services while simultaneously saving money have. However, while the percentage of districts grew only slightly from 2013 to 2014, the number of districts in each of the categories surveyed — custodial, food or transportation — that privatized increased at higher rates than the overall number of districts that contract out support services.more
Michigan Public School Employee Retirement Plans
This study considers the supposed ‘transition costs’ that would be effected by a state switch from a defined-benefit to defined-contribution retirement system. In it, the “transition costs” are found to be nonbinding and discretionary. In addition, the study offers the state a series of reforms that would diffuse such costs, as well as consideration for the long-term fiscal improvements that would arise from payment of the pension’s unfunded liabilities. more
in Need of Reform
This booklet contains the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation’s final legal filing in a nationally known case involving the illegal unionization of Michigan’s home-based day care business owners and providers as government employees. Wright argued the case in the Michigan courts on behalf of Sherry Loar, Michelle Berry and Paulette Silverson, who each own home-based day care businesses.
The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation sued to end the DHS' illegal diversion of so-called "union dues" from state subsidy checks received by home-based day care providers who watch children from low-income families. The "dues" were funneled to a government-employee union that purports to represent more than 40,000 of Michigan's home-based day care providers, who are actually private business owners and independent contractors.
The case was ruled moot by the Michigan Supreme Court after the DHS ceased to collect the dues and the DHS director stated that these home-based day care providers are not public employees.more
(Editor's note: These recommendations were originally posted in January 2009. They were updated in January 2011, and a Top 10 list was added. You may view PDFs of the previous versions: the Second Edition, with an introduction by Mackinac Center President Joseph G. Lehman, and the First Edition.)
Michigan is blessed with a wealth of the human and natural resources integral to building vibrant commerce and vigorous communities in the 21st century. At the moment, however, counterproductive public policies have made it harder for our industries to compete nationally and internationally and have reduced our state’s attractiveness to investors and entrepreneurs.
In addition, Michigan is not immune to the gradual erosion of equity and basic human freedom that accompanies a steady growth in the power and scope of government. Related to this, our government’s ability to properly perform many critical functions, including education, has been jeopardized by policymakers’ attempts to do too many things. This lack of focus has even led to confusion among policymakers over whether government exists to serve the people or vice versa.
There’s a lot of work to do to reverse this, but there’s good news. Once growth- and freedom-friendly policies are in place, recovery is likely to occur much more quickly than most people imagine.
For policymakers and voters serious about restoring freedom and economic vitality in the Great Lakes State, the Mackinac Center presents the following 101 recommendations.
This report is a compendium of work authored by Mackinac Center policy analysts and compiled by Senior Legislative Analyst Jack McHugh. The brief recommendations inevitably omit some nuance and detail. These are provided more fully in the online articles cited with each recommendation.more
This paper examines how public school districts responded to Michigan's 2012 “right-to-work” law. It describes the key findings from reviews of more than 500 teacher collective bargaining agreements. It also raises several questions about the legality of some union contracts with regard to this new law.
Approximately 75 percent of districts with contracts subject to the right-to-work law removed language that would require employees to financially support a union as a condition of employment. Both legal and policy questions are raised by the remaining 25 percent of districts, which kept mandatory dues language in one way or another, despite having a contract that took effect or was modified after the law's effective date.
The study describes five issues with these contracts. Twenty-three contracts made no apparent changes and kept mandatory dues language. Eight districts created a separate agreement to require mandatory dues payment. Fifteen contracts were ratified before they would be subject to the right-to-work law, but then didn’t take effect until much later. Five contracts made only the mandatory dues language immediately effective, while delaying the rest of the contract. Finally, at least six districts have modified parts of their contract without making the rest of it compliant with the right-to-work law.more
Privatization of support services has been a method that Michigan school districts have used for several years to lower costs. More than ever before, Michigan school districts are privatizing the three main support services they offer — food, custodial and transportation. Our annual survey finds that 48.8 percent of Michigan school districts are contracting out for these services. This is an 8 percent increase over 2009.
The largest impetus for contracting is cost savings. The survey found that first-year contracts alone are expected to save districts $16.7 million cumulatively.
Just what constitutes a public record? Are documents created by a public official on a public computer system “public records” under Michigan's Freedom of Information Act? In this "friend of the court" brief, Mackinac Senior Legal Analyst Patrick J. Wright argues the answer is “yes” and warns that a failure to readily disclose such documents would seriously undermine FOIA's value.more
With Michigan’s public school districts facing a decline in per-pupil funding, more districts are contracting out for at least one of the three major school support services — food, custodial and transportation — than ever before. This year’s survey of school districts found that 44.6 percent of all Michigan school districts contract out for at least one of these services, a 5.6 percent increase over 2008. This year, new contracts alone are expected to save $6.9 million.more