Departing CPS official drove controversial Aramark janitors deal

This article was originally published on September 18, 2015.

Tim Cawley, the architect of the controversial Aramark private janitorial contract at CPS and a frequent lightning rod for criticism, said Friday he is leaving Chicago Public Schools, apparently without a new job.

The departure of the chief administrative officer, who headed numerous departments on the operations side of CPS, is the latest top change as new CEO Forrest Claypool builds up a management team.

Aside from the Aramark deal — which Cawley promised would free up principals’ time, save CPS millions and leave schools cleaner than ever — Cawley was probably best known for seeking a residency waiver for living in Winnetka when Mayor Rahm Emanuel first tapped him as chief financial officer of CPS at the start of his first term in office. New CEO Forrest Claypool was the fourth CEO Cawley worked with.

Cawley stood by the $260 million Aramark contract, which had principals and parents crying filth, and that cost more than the district had estimated.

“I played a very important role in transforming the way the district does business,” he said of his legacy Friday.

“I am happy to wear Aramark for the foreseeable future. I think the decision was still the right decision. The schools are cleaner, we’re doing it at lower cost.”

“Principals’ lives are becoming easier now,” he continued, acknowledging that the contract’s first year was rough.

Principals and parents roared in the months after the private custodial management company took over, saying that schools were dirty, supplies skimpy and school leaders left to pick up the slack. Nor were the cost savings as large as estimated after about 3 million square feet of school space, including 22 entire school buildings, were forgotten in the original count. The Philadelphia-based company, however, has stood by its work, and CPS has kept the $260 million three-year deal.

In a statement, Claypool said Cawley was “a strong force for change and reform at CPS for the past four years and will be missed.”

Cawley said he decided to leave on his own after more than four years at CPS so Claypool can reorganize central office as he sees fit. A few of the departments he oversaw already moved to other supervisors.

“It’s clear that Forrest is building his own team and I think it’s right to let him do that,” he said. “I’ve had a good run here, and I recognize someone would want fresh eyes.”

With one of CPS’ highest salaries at $215,000 a year, Cawley said he expected to stick around until Claypool identified a successor, likely through October.

Last month, the CEO hired Ronald DeNard, his longtime colleague, as his $225,000-a-year senior financial officer, seeking a residency waiver as well for DeNard, who owns a home in south suburban Flossmoor.

Cawley moved to CPS in 2011 from the Academy of Urban School Leadership, a private not-for-profit organization that runs a number of CPS schools it has promised to “turn around.” That means the entire staff is fired, from the principal down to the janitors and staff have to reapply for their jobs under new leadership. The number of schools AUSL has taken over under Emanuel has grown. Cawley was frequently the target of criticism from parent groups and the Chicago Teachers Union for that trend.

He also attracted attention for living in the suburbs, saying he didn’t want to disrupt his daughter, newly adopted from Ukraine, by leaving the family’s Winnetka home. He kept that house but also bought one in Lincoln Park.

And Cawley was part of the negotiating team that saw CTU strike in 2012. He has not been part of recent talks to renew that contract.

In June, when he went before the pension board, Cawley warned that without a loan, class sizes would jump to 35 students in a room, 3,000 teachers would have to be laid off and furlough days would be triggered system-wide.

Those cuts have not yet materialized. After CPS’ request was rejected, the district turned its attention back to Springfield for help filling a $480 million budget hole.

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