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Emanuel, Byrd-Bennett To Aramark: Clean Up Your Act And Our Schools

By Chuck Sudo in News on Sep 16, 2014 9:50PM


Have you read about the latest mini-scandal at Chicago Public Schools? This one involves Aramark Corporation, the company best known for providing foodservice, uniform and facilities support for businesses including health care institutions, prisons, sports arenas and schools. Aramark and CPS agreed to a two-year contract in February to provide custodial services and building maintenance to the district’s schools. This led to concerns from union janitors they could lose their jobs. CPS said in March there were no plans to lay off any janitors directly employed through CPS.

No one said anything about Aramark laying off custodians, however. The Sun-Times reported last weekend that 476 custodians would lose their jobs by the end of the month. That news may not have registered if Aramark was doing its job keeping the city’s schools clean.

It isn’t. A survey by AAPPLE, an offshoot of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, revealed that since Aramark took over custodial duties there have been shortages of supplies, dirtier schools, and teachers spending more time than ever ensuring their classrooms are clean.

One Southwest Side elementary principal — who along with others did not want her name printed for fear of retribution — said in a telephone interview that since Aramark took over the school, it has developed a problem with bugs and rodents that are feasting on garbage and on spilled drops of milk on floors that aren’t being cleaned enough, she said.

She’s yet to visit classrooms this year because she has been dealing with too many cleaning issues. The exterminator she called in told her he’s seeing pest problems in lots of schools because their classrooms aren’t being thoroughly cleaned.

Her school used to be spotless. Now, she said, “it’s a nightmare. What bothers me the most is my children, many of them come from environments that are not in the best shape...This is the only welcoming place they get, and I put a lot of time painting classrooms and making things look very friendly or cozy.”

Aramark’s contract with CPS is for $260 million. Leslie Norgren, CPS director of asset management, said she believes the contract objectives of clean schools and saving the district money have been met, despite the prevalence of roaches and rodents at schools. Norgren added an audit of Aramark’s compliance with the contract is in progress, and monthly walkthroughs of schools are in the works. If Norgren was so sure the schools were clean and money was being saved, why are walkthroughs being planned?

The controversy isn’t going away, as more media outlets pick up on the story. CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said she wasn’t concerned by the Sun-Times report, yet added Aramark and SodexoMAGIC, which holds an $80 million contract for facilities management at some CPS pilot schools, have been slow out of the gates. (And likely not carrying mops and brooms, while they’re at it.)

“Obviously it has not been as smooth as we would like,” Byrd-Bennett said of the transition to private contractors. “I think, in a very short time, you’ll see a change. … We will share it with you as soon as it’s laid out.”

Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis said the privatization wasn’t working and called for the school district to fire Aramark and SodexoMAGIC. This afternoon, Mayor Rahm Emanuel tried to get ahead or Aramark-gate and laid down the law.

"Aramark's job is to clean the schools so our principals and teachers can focus on their fundamental responsibility: education," he said after an unrelated press conference about homeless veterans. "They will either live up to that contract and clean up the schools, or they can clean out their desks and get out."

Emanuel added Chicago School Board president David Vitale was in contact with Aramark to ensure the company to “step up and meet the letter as well as the spirit of that contract.”

Norgren told the Sun-Times that if Aramark can’t honor the terms of the contract, they can return the money already paid to them by CPS. We’ve seen this before and wouldn’t trust CPS with balancing our checkbook, let alone handle a multi-billion dollar budget. This is another case of CPS wasting money it can ill afford to spend, and once again the teachers and students in the system are the victims.