Restoring School Board Options on Contracting Out

By Dr. Myron Lieberman
  • Monday, November 20, 1995

Executive Summary

While school boards are asking for more money to build schools, repair current structures and increase teachers' salaries, opportunities to save money are being overlooked. Contracting out, or the subcontracting of services that are needed to keep a school system running, are not usually considered in cost-reducing efforts. School boards are often faced with "make or buy" decisions, such as whether to hire school bus drivers or employ a private transportation company. In public education, the usefulness and importance of these decisions is often ignored by school boards and administrators.

Unfortunately, most school boards are not adequately informed about the underlying issues involved in "make or buy" decisions. Powerful forces have a vested interest in keeping school boards uninformed: the most zealous of which are public education labor unions like the National Education Association (NEA) and the Nevada State Education Association (NSEA), one of its numerous local affiliates. They are intensely opposed to contracting out and have waged an all-out war against any consideration of such proposals. By keeping the services run by the school district, money is kept within the public education system, allowing unions more bargaining leverage in regard to contract negotiations and strikes.

Further, the NEA is currently in the process of establishing a Center for Educational Support Personnel. This would allow all bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and other school supporting staff into the union and therefore expands the union's financial base and membership dues. Contracting out any of these services would take away from future union membership. The NEA, along with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the AFL-CIO, are utilizing every dimension of union operations to campaign against contracting out.

The NEA has already published two manuals on how to prevent contracting out. They include warning signs that privatization might be imminent and how to use collective bargaining to prevent it, legal strategies useful in blocking contracting out attempts as well as some questionable, possibly illegal, methods to use should the first two options fail. Far from being a strictly American problem, their campaign against privatization of schools services is being played out internationally, as well.

Contracting out services is not necessarily the best answer to saving money under all circumstances, but it is an option worth considering. If the option is not available to school boards, then the taxpayer, and ultimately the children, will lose.

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