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Compact case
Published by: Harvard Kennedy School
Published in: 2001

Abstract

When Superintendent Roderick Paige of the Houston Independent School District (HISD) confronts the challenge of raising the standards of student achievement, he believes he must concentrate the school district''s resources on its central task: teaching. Like most U.S. public school systems, however, HISD does many things other than teaching, among them providing the extensive services of student transportation and meals. Food service alone accounts for 6.3 percent of the school district''s $1 billion budget, or about $63 million. This case examines the Paige administration''s political and policy choices as it ponders whether to replace public food service employees, in particular, with the services of a private contractor. Paige must decide both whether it is appropriate to contract for food service and whether the moment is right, politically, to try to do so. Among the complications: the majority of food service workers are modestly paid African-American or Hispanic residents of Houston; many of them are parents of public school children. Paige, an African-American himself, had to weigh-in the context of the larger vision he had for the Houston schools-the pros and cons of outsourcing. Privatization could relieve administrators and principals of the responsibility for feeding children, and in the process introduce greater efficiency and save some money. But previous outsourcing efforts had stirred political controversy and had failed to gain the approval of the HISD elected school board. Paige knew he risked political opposition that could potentially spill over to the rest of his program. The case can be used both to consider the principles of outsourcing and the leadership challenges faced by Paige.

About

Abstract

When Superintendent Roderick Paige of the Houston Independent School District (HISD) confronts the challenge of raising the standards of student achievement, he believes he must concentrate the school district''s resources on its central task: teaching. Like most U.S. public school systems, however, HISD does many things other than teaching, among them providing the extensive services of student transportation and meals. Food service alone accounts for 6.3 percent of the school district''s $1 billion budget, or about $63 million. This case examines the Paige administration''s political and policy choices as it ponders whether to replace public food service employees, in particular, with the services of a private contractor. Paige must decide both whether it is appropriate to contract for food service and whether the moment is right, politically, to try to do so. Among the complications: the majority of food service workers are modestly paid African-American or Hispanic residents of Houston; many of them are parents of public school children. Paige, an African-American himself, had to weigh-in the context of the larger vision he had for the Houston schools-the pros and cons of outsourcing. Privatization could relieve administrators and principals of the responsibility for feeding children, and in the process introduce greater efficiency and save some money. But previous outsourcing efforts had stirred political controversy and had failed to gain the approval of the HISD elected school board. Paige knew he risked political opposition that could potentially spill over to the rest of his program. The case can be used both to consider the principles of outsourcing and the leadership challenges faced by Paige.

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