Like slowly boiling a frog, lakes area school districts are taking small, gradual steps towards utilizing more private sector services in non-instructional areas. However, one Kent County lawmaker wants to mandate that districts and intermediate school districts across the state enter into contracts with private companies for transportation, food service, and custodial services by 2012.
The proposal, House Bill (HB) 4306, was sponsored by state Rep. David Agema (R-Grandville), the chamber’s majority caucus chairman, and would mandate that school districts enter into one or more contracts for food services, custodial services and transportation services. By June 30, 2012, districts across the state would no longer employ personnel to provide those services.
And while some area lawmakers — particularly state Rep. Bill Rogers (R-Milford) and state Rep. Hugh Crawford (R-Walled Lake, Wixom), who are co-sponsors of the legislation — are supporting the measure, local districts and labor groups are decrying the proposal as an effort that will have dire consequences not only for their employees and members, but also local communities.
“We obviously think it’s a horrific idea for public education,” said Marcy Felegy, executive director of the Waterford Michigan Education Association. “Bills regarding privatization do nothing but destabilize communities.”
Waterford Schools is the largest employer in the community and, of those individuals who would be affected by the legislation, 80 percent of them live in Waterford, Felegy said. That in and of itself would have a detrimental impact on the area, according to Felegy.
Deb Lotan, president of the Waterford Custodial, Food Service, Maintenance and Transportation workers, which represents around 220 district employees, echoed that the bill would be a “multiple-whammy” for the community of loss of jobs, loss of children of those employees in the district, and loss of workers contributing to the district’s retirement system.
Judy Evola, spokeswoman for Walled Lake Consolidated Schools, said custodial services have already been privatized in the district, and transportation employees took “significant reductions” during labor negotiations last year. Food service employees are still represented by the MEA, she said.
Rogers said his co-sponsorship of the bill largely hinged on the fact that school districts would be required to competitively bid out for the services in question.
“That’s really the crux of even the co-sponsorship,” he said. “That’s the key component for me. I don’t want to get into a position where we are forcing anything.”
But state Rep. Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield, Commerce, Wolverine Lake) said the legislation is doing exactly that, calling it a “big government” intrusion into the matters best left to local school districts. She also said it amounted to an unfunded mandate and raised concerns about the safety of children when unknown people come into a school district.
“Having kids in the public schools, I want to know who my bus driver is that drives my kids to school,” she said.
Boards of education would not be required to competitively bid for contracts less than $20,000, a figure that would fluctuate each year based on the consumer price index.
The legislation has been referred to the House Education Committee for further consideration.