School district explores privatizing some services
by Staff Writer
The members of the Privatization Advisory Committee, formed in June to explore areas in which Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools could save money by hiring outside service providers, held its first meeting last month at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center.
“The first meeting was about sitting down and saying, ‘here we are, let’s get acquainted and see what we’re going to do,’” Tim Morgan, south Charlotte representative who has led the privatization efforts, said. “It was very much an introductory-type meeting and no real decisions came out of it, but we expected that.”
The board of education appointed the committee members at their June 6 meeting. According to the board’s Charter for Privatization Advisory Committee, a set of bylaws approved at the April 12 meeting, one committee member will be appointed by each board member. The initial appointments are for three-year terms, and reappointments will be for two-year terms.
District 1 representative Rhonda Lennon, who represents the three north Mecklenburg towns of Davidson, Huntersville and Cornelius, was one of four school board members, including Morgan, Trent Merchant, Kaye McGarry and chairman Eric Davis, who voted to approve the privatization advisory committee in March.
“I was one of the initial proponents who said we needed to look deeply (at privatization), deeper then we could at a board level,” Lennon said. “Anything we can save in operating dollars can be redirected to the classroom.”
The committee will be responsible for analyzing existing district policies and expenditures, identifying potential opportunities for saving money through outsourcing services and making recommendations to the board members.
The committee members are: Joan E. Belk, nominated by Joe White; Sylvia L. Grier, nominated by Richard McElrath; Barry Hall, nominated by Morgan; Robert E. Harrington, nominated by Eric Davis; Michael L. Murdock, nominated by Trent Merchant; Betty Newsam, nominated by Joyce Waddell; Kathleen Rose-Bellot, nominated by Rhonda Lennon; Cassandra Harris Tydings, nominated by Tom Tate; and Susan Walker, nominated by Kaye McGarry.
Davis announced that Harrington will serve as chair of the committee, which he believes will serve, “a beneficial role in support” of the district.
Morgan led the task force that explored the City of Charlotte’s managed competition program and how the process could work for the district. He met with representatives from the city, district officials and outside service providers to identify opportunities for privatization and gauge outside interest in bidding for future projects.
Morgan recommended beginning pilot programs in food service and transportation as early as the 2012-13 school year.
He proposed hiring an outside food provider for 10 to 20 school cafeterias and, after a year or two, comparing the food service with service provided at schools not enrolled in the pilot program.
Morgan also proposed hiring an outside provider for magnet school busing, which is the most expensive transportation option the district offers.
“My recommendation would be to look at a pilot program for magnet transportation only,” Morgan said in March. “If it works, great, we’ll look at ways to expand it. If not, we haven’t dismantled anything and we’ll be able to go back fairly easily.”
Now that the committee meetings have begun, Morgan expects that the members will explore his recommendations while looking into new possibilities for saving district funds.
“I would anticipate that (the early recommendations) will be some of the lead discussion items as the group gets going, but I’m excited to see what other ideas they come up with,” Morgan said. “Having more sets of eyes on this project will generate new areas in which we could save some money, and that’s a good thing.”
The district currently spends more than $30 million every year for services provided by outside companies, including architectural design and construction management. The committee members will be charged with studying the district’s expenditures and exploring more areas that could save money through outsourcing.
“What I gave the committee members were some discussion points and places to start, but I’m hopeful that there are some additional cost-saving measures that they will come up with,” Morgan said.
The next meeting of the Privatization Advisory Committee is scheduled for 8 a.m. on Sept. 13, a Thursday, at Room 528 in the Government Center, located at 600 E. Fourth St.