Two-thirds of Michigan’s conventional public school districts now contract out for at least one of the three main noninstructional support services—custodial, food or transportation—according to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s 2013 School Privatization Survey. That is up from 60 percent in 2012 and more than double from 2001, when the Center’s first survey found that 31 percent of districts privatized one or more of those services.

“In just a decade, privatization of support services has gone from a common but controversial practice to a mark of fiscal discipline among districts,” says James Hohman, assistant director of fiscal policy.

Custodial services is the most frequently contracted service, with 45.5 percent of districts using private companies to clean and maintain their buildings and grounds. That is up from 39 percent in 2012 and a huge jump from 6.6 percent in 2003.

While transportation contracting is the least frequently used service, it is increasing rapidly, growing from 16 percent in 2012 to nearly 21 percent in 2013 as 30 new districts outsourced busing.

Food service contracting, although not growing as quickly as the other two, is still quite common. With 21 districts signing new contracts for cafeteria oversight, the rate grew from 34.6 percent of districts in 2012 to 36.5 percent in 2013.

The survey was conducted between May 28 and Nov. 12, 2013, and responses were received from all 545 school districts in Michigan. The number of districts is down from previous years since the Buena Vista and Inkster districts were dissolved and the Ypsilanti and Willow Run districts were merged.

Overall, the survey found that 357 of the 545 districts contract for at least one of the three main noninstructional services and 159 districts contract for at least two, up from 127 districts in 2012. In total 72 districts began new contracts for food, custodial or transportation services in 2013 and there were 15 districts that brought a service back in-house.

Sum totals include 199 districts that contract for food services, 248 for custodial and 114 for transportation. Districts reported an all-time high satisfaction level with their contracted services at 93 percent.

The full survey, including a map showing every district that contracts out for support services, can be found at http://www.mackinac.org/archives/2014/S2014-01.pdf.