Source: Sherman Publications

School services under review

by Ashley St. Aubin

September 21, 2011

Lake Orion Community Schools officials want to make sure they are comparing apples-to-apples before possibly privatizing custodial and transportation services in the future.

The topic was discussed at length among members of the school board and administrators during the Sept. 14 school board meeting.

The notion of privatizing such services was prompted by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s “best practices” requirements set forth earlier this year for school districts pursuing additional state funding.

The first step in determining if such privatization makes financial sense for the district involves preparing a detailed request-for-proposal (RFP) for outside vendors to consider. Part of this includes providing accurate job descriptions in the RFP document.

“We need to truly understand the jobs to adequately describe them in any request-for-proposal,” said Board Vice President Birgit McQuiston, who agreed with Superintendent Marion Ginopolis that job descriptions often are not consistent from one district to the next.

Trustee Melissa Miller concurred. “We should move forward with the RFP process, but the descriptions need to be very specific and we need to make sure we’re comparing apples-to-apples to assure the savings will be there.”

Miller also told the board that she has been told by other districts that they were told by consultants they would achieve huge cost savings by privatizing services but, in reality, the numbers do not always add up to what is promised.

Acknowledging this concern, John Anderson, assistant superintendent of business and finance, said the RFP process is a work-in-progress and it will take 60-90 days to complete the document.

In addition, Miller has concerns with actual invoices from vendors accurately reflecting bids secured through the RFP process. “This was another concern with privatizing expressed by the districts I spoke with,” she said. “In many cases, the actual invoices are higher.”

Treasurer Jim Weidman liked the direction the board was taking, doing its homework before issuing an RFP - starting with a complete audit of what the custodial and transportation teams do.

He warned if the district issues what may be construed as a vague RFP, it could appear to vendors that Lake Orion is simply “shopping for services” and not really serious about privatizing these functions. If the district does not go in that direction now, this could deter vendors from pur-