Privatization means something different to many. It means something different to the superintendent/school board who hire them to replace a service, the company who earns profits from the service, the people who are employed by the company and to the children and staff who interact with the company employees on a daily basis. The people who it should really mean the most to are the parents and tax payers of the school district.
Here in Michigan, the privatization movement started to really take shape about 6 years ago. I was beginning my 2nd year of teaching in a new district when I first heard about the concept. The district had made the switch from school employed custodial staff to a privatized staff.
Along with district privitazing custodial staff, the RESD which oversees the entire county had privatized bussing. They weren’t alone, the district where I lived also hired out to a company to handle their bussing needs. It actually was the same company.
So why do districts use privatization?
It comes down to simple math really. It’s more efficient or in other words it is cheaper. When the school hires employees directly, they pay higher wages, pay insurance benefits and offer a form of retirement most of the time. By replacing all the costs (aka as replacing the employee) with one lump sum to a company, they cut costs from their budget.
Cutting costs in the public schools is super important. Why? Because funding from the government and student population have drastically decreased over the years. This is forcing school boards and superintendents to find ways to cut costs.
Benefits of Privatization?
Other than saving the district money, I don’t see any other benefits. I’m pretty sure the district could find other ways to help offset the costs starting with superintendent and assistant superintendent salaries. However, that’s a discussion for some other time.
Privatization hurts morale of the staff and the community. The school system used to be a respected place to work that paid middle class wages, offered insurance and some form of retirement. Now those jobs have been replaced by low (minimum wage/poverty level) wages and may or may not offer insurance or retirement. This creates high turnover and even could lead to possible safety issues which both affect our children.
When I was in system, we found that the custodial staff was limited more on what they could do to help us vs. when they were school employees. I saw two amazing people lose their jobs simply for going above and beyond for helping the teaching staff. The company didn’t want them interacting with kids or helping us clean up after our popcorn sales.
Wait? Did I just say they aren’t allowed to interact with the kids? Yup, I sure did. I would love to see the big wigs at the company be in the cafeteria with our little 5 year old kindergarteners asking them to help open milks or clean up their spills constantly just go on about their cleaning and ignore them.
They are often given unrealistic expectations with unrealistic time frames. This can create issues in the building that affects children. Classrooms might not be cleaned as well as they should be or even sanitized properly. The custodial staff who may want to do a good job feel pressure and stress from their bosses to fit it all in and won’t be allowed overtime to do an adequate job. The overtime which is an added expense for the company will not only ensure cleanliness in the classrooms, but also provide extra money for the low paid workers that truly could benefit their families.
One last issue I want to address is what happens when the company continues to raise their rates? The district is either forced to pay more or replace the company with a new one. This means people without jobs, new employees around our children, and new expectations around the building.
Not to mention, some companies provide different services which could create added expenses. For example when the district I mentioned earlier switched over to outsourcing, the district didn’t realize the company didn’t cover plowing which the previous school employeed staff did. This meant the district had to scramble in December to find a separate plowing company to plow. Another added cost to the district.
What does this have to do with DeVos?
Well, she and her other supporters of private/charter schools including our very own governor have been working tirelessly for years to defund and increase mandates that will allow our public schools to fail. These very mandates are an enormous reason why I couldn’t stay in public ed and at this point won’t be sending my children to public school. These funding cuts along with declining populations and ever slow changing school systems have allowed for privatization of many important people to our schools.
Where are we heading?
Personally, I see a lot more outsourcing in the education world. Companies such as Edustaff here in Michigan have already taken over custodial staff and substitutes. I foresee more districts to follow the outsourcing path if they haven’t already.
But what is really scary to me is I am thinking these companies will eventually take over our public school teachers. They will employee teachers at lower pay and maybe offer some form of benefits like 401K and a less than stellar insurance plan.
Why do I think this?
1. More profits for the company and it saves districts money. It’s a win/win for both the company and districts.
2. During the Detroit Public Schools crisis, the government attempted to allow non-certified teachers to be allowed to teach in the schools. Systematically, the government is known for trying things in more poverish areas like Detroit to test their ideas before taking it mainstream. If companies take over teaching staffs, this very well could be part of what happens. After all, the districts already use scripted programs which make lesson planning and “teaching” a lot less complicated.
3. We are currently under a teaching shortage, so this maybe a way for them to combat the shortage. This could be especially true if they ever are allowed to hire non-certified teachers for the positions.
In conclusion, outsourcing is bad for our schools, our community and even worse for our children. I’m sure districts could find ways to help offset costs by simply starting from the top down and finding ways to be more frugal (i.e. Doing away with all the useless busy worksheets or consumable workbooks that waste paper, energy to copy and money or finding ways to become more eco-friendly to save costs). We need our school leaders to start thinking outside of the box to save the public schools because EVERY child deserves the best education.
I’m Melissa Dow, M.ED. I am a wife, mama of 2 and a bonus mama of 1. A former public school educator with 7 years of experience in both special education and general education who is on a new journey to help parents guide their children to uncover their true passions in order to find their life purpose. I love spending time out in nature whether hiking, running, camping, canoeing or just playing in our backyard (aka our outdoor classroom). I also enjoy reading, learning new things, organic gardening and creating our a simple life.