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Stern-faced and arms crossed, classified employees of the Salt Lake School District listened intently Tuesday night as the school board debated the committee procedure for considering services for privatization.

After a lengthy discussion - and a public apology by board member D. Kent Michie, who had previously challenged the intelligence of the members of the administration's privatization committee - the board moved the controversial issue for final consideration on May 16.Under a preliminary plan, 15 different services would be studied for privatization between 1995 and 1998.

The first would be transportation. A request for proposals has indicated the school district could save $500,000 a year on transportation costs if the work was contracted to a private company.

District bus drivers dispute the numbers, saying the private providers, whom they believe would receive lower pay and fewer benefits, would not have a vested interest in the district's students.

Regina Mitchell, who has driven a school bus for the district since 1979, told the board Tuesday, "Please be sure the safety of our children is not compromised."

The work of the privatization committee has sent a ripple through the district's 1,200 classified employees who fear their jobs could be eliminated if proposed bids indicate that the district could save a considerable amount of money if the work was contracted to private firms. Classified employees represent less than half of the district's 2,700 employees.

Under the policy under consideration by the school board, the privatization committee would identify a service that could be performed by private vendors. The committee would then identify the district's existing costs in performing the service, including benefits, overhead, space, materials and usage.

Once the evaluation is performed, an proposed bid could be prepared and issued. District employees could participate in the bidding process as equal bidders. Responses would be reviewed by the oversight committee, which would make recommendations to the school board. The school board would have the final say whether to privatize services.

Only Granite School District and three Utah universities employ private vendors to provide services on their campuses.

Marriott Corp. runs food service in the Granite district, but the employees work for the district.