CPS principals say schools remain ‘filthy’ under $340M janitorial contracts

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CPS parent Jennie Biggs, right, says her children’s school remains filthy under CPS private contracts with Aramark and SodexoMagic. At left is Clarice Berry of Chicago Principals and Administrators Association. | Lauren FitzPatrick

A year after Chicago Public School hired private companies to clean schools, hundreds of principals remain disgusted with the work and are calling for an end to the $340 million contracts.

About 260 of 522 principals of district-run schools answered surveys by the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, with 200 saying their schools are dirtier since Aramark and SodexoMAGIC took over janitorial services in March 2014. More than 200 also said the private managers did not free them up to spend more time on instructional issues as promised.

“It’s been a year; it’s been an utter catastrophe,” President Clarice Berry said. “The survey we did indicates from my principals just how horrendous and how mismanaged and how unproductive these contracts are that CPS let to these two corporations at the taxpayer cost of $340 million.”

Jennie Biggs, a board member for the parent group Raise Your Hand, said Aramark isn’t contracted to wipe down desks, chairs and lab tables at her children’s school. Students and teachers do it themselves, she said.

“I’ve actually seen wipes with black handprints on them because that’s how dirty these surfaces are,” Biggs said. And citywide, “I cannot tell you the number of parents, teachers and students who report no hand soap.”

A survey last summer revealed widespread problems, including dead vermin and garbage sitting in classrooms overnight.

CPS and Aramark promised better service by sending in more managers to cope with the complaints.

The mayor’s threats to the company — to clean up the schools or clean out your desks — apparently haven’t worked, Berry said.

CPS staffers “have made promises they haven’t kept. They told us things are going to change — they haven’t changed,” Berry said. “Clearly the principals say that very articulately in the survey that they have emailed, they have called, they have sent pictures.”

Schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett said that 341 of the schools have been audited for cleanliness this year and 295 of them were found after a “bumpy transition” to have the APPA Level 2 cleaning standards the contract requires. The rest of the 583 buildings have not yet been spot-checked.

“Ensuring our students have a safe and clean learning environment is a top priority at CPS, and it is unacceptable when any school is not meeting that standard,” Byrd-Bennett said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday responded to the survey with the same tough talk that went nowhere just a few months ago.

“I’ve told the company, they’d better fix this. And I’ve been in communication directly with the board that everybody has to be held accountable and, if it’s not, it’s gonna be a very short contract,” the mayor said after participating in a business roundtable.

Reminded that’s what he said the last time without results, Emanuel ignored the comment and walked away.

CPS audit

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