News Story

MEA Opposes Privatization In Schools But Practices It

Apparently it’s OK for taxpayers to pay more for noncore services but not the union

The Michigan Education Association has for years made opposition to public schools privatizing non-instructional services a top priority. The state’s largest teachers union even has an anti-privatization committee to devise ways to prevent public school districts from contracting out for transportation, food service and janitorial services as a way to save money.

But when it comes to the union’s own operations, including its headquarters in East Lansing, the MEA contracts with private firms rather than hire its own full-time employees to do the work. The union’s message to school districts when it comes to saving money is do as I say, not as I do.

According to an annual report the MEA files with the federal government, the union spent $167,204 on janitorial services in 2016-17. A typical Michigan school custodian has a salary of about $36,000 a year with health insurance benefits that cost around $16,000. The MEA could have hired three custodians for what it paid for janitorial services in the 2016-17 year.

The MEA didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.

But public school districts apparently are watching what the MEA does, not what it says. A majority of Michigan districts are now following the MEA’s lead and outsourcing custodial services to firms that specialize in this.

In 2003, just 6.6 percent of the 500-plus school districts contracted out for custodial services. By 2017, that number had grown to 52.6 percent, according to an annual public school privatization survey conducted by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

The MEA isn’t the only institution to criticize privatization while benefitting from it.

In January 2017, the board of East Lansing Public Schools passed a resolution stating that Betsy DeVos should not be the next U.S. Secretary of Education.

MLive reported at the time: “The board says DeVos is unfit for the position because she masks her privatization agenda with propaganda cloaked in the mantra of ‘choice,’ and because she has never attended a public school, sent her children to a public school or worked in a public school.”

East Lansing Public Schools contracted out for food, custodial and transportation services in 2017.