FPS could see big savings from some outsourcing proposals

After Farmington Public Schools employees and parents pleaded Tuesday to keep custodial and transportation services in-house, a consultant reported that outsourcing could save millions of dollars over the first three years.

Those who spoke during a lengthy public comment segment urged school board members to look beyond the dollars. Parent James White recalled a time when the district’s Director of Transportation pitched in after a group of students were left stranded. He believes that won’t happen with privatization.

“I fear, and I think everybody fears, that we will get a lot less than we pay for if we privatize,” he said. “We get more than we pay for now.”

Laurie Tunick, a Farmington Hills resident and director of the district’s Michigan Education Association (MEA) bargaining unit, said employees have made “nothing but concessions” over the past five years, agreeing to wage and step freezes and increases in health care costs. She said outsourced transportation savings amounts to a small percentage of the district’s overall budget, “a minimal cost to ensure the safety of our students.”

After steep concessions five years ago, Tunick said, the custodial staff “simply cannot afford to give more.” While acknowledging the outsourced savings gap is “huge” for that group, she said private companies will not do as good a job with a “revolving door of strangers.”

Millions in savings

Attorney Jeremy Motz of Clark Hill PLC laid out the results of winter requests for proposals (RFP) covering transportation, custodial and groundskeeping services. The RFPs were designed to elicit detailed responses that would allow for “apples to apples” comparisons, he said.

Three finalists were chosen from among the five responses to each RFP, after a “very comprehensive review and analysis,” Motz said. He also noted that the review committee felt cost “was one of the least factors they wanted to look at.” None of the finalists were low bidders.

Outsourcing transportation would result in “gross savings” of $325,000 to $950,000 in the first year, and a three-year savings of $775,000 to $2.7 million, Motz said. Gross savings for outsourcing custodial ranged from $1.1 million to $1.5 million in the first year, and a three-year savings of $3.2 million to $4.5 million.

Because the district has no dedicated groundskeeping department, Motz said, there was no way to make the “apples to apples” comparison with contractors proposing turnkey grounds services. Based on current costs, he said, outsourcing would bring no substantial savings.

Officials had their questions answered during a closed session prior to the regular meeting and did not discuss Motz’s presentation. Board President Howard Wallach said officials will likely have another outsourcing discussion before their vote on May 3.