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Our children rely on the everyday heroes who provide them with nutritious meals, clean up their classrooms, and make sure that they get to school and back home again safely. The bus driver, the cafeteria worker, or the custodian in a school is often one of the most important school relationships a
student has. These essential school staff members serve as mentors, cheerleaders, and protectors of the children they see every day.

School districts that contract out these jobs give up control over the vital services school staff provides. An examination of private contractors’ track record shows that these companies often provide inferior service in the quest to maximize profits. Schools have experienced a number of problems after outsourcing school services including dirty classrooms, unreliable bus routes, improperly administered medicines, less
nutritious meals, and unkempt grounds.

Promised cost savings also often fail to materialize. According to a review of outsourcing experience across the county by Mildred Warner, Professor of City and Regional Planning at Cornell University, “Expectations of costs savings are not well supported by a careful reading of economic theory, and empirically the evidence for cost savings is weak.” In fact, some districts that privatized school services later “insourced” or brought these services back in-house, and have experienced significant cost savings by doing so. The San Diego Unified School District ended its bus services contract in 2010 and has saved $1 million per year by providing these transportation services itself.

This guide provides examples of important questions that decision makers should consider when faced with a proposed privatization effort. Advocates, including school service personnel, teachers, parents, and members of the community can use these questions to ensure that decision makers keep students’ and the broader district’s best interest at the heart of these conversations. They should be able to answer each of these questions before making the decision to privatize school services. These questions can be helpful to use during meetings with school administrators, in testimony at school board hearings, and even in meetings with allies to draw attention to problems with a proposed privatization initiative. While this is not a complete or exhaustive guide, it provides a framework for examining and evaluating school services privatization.

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