Rahm to Aramark: Clean up the schools or clean out your desks

This article was originally published on September 17, 2014.

Responding to reports of filthy conditions inside Chicago Public Schools after privatizing janitorial management, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Aramark could “clean out the schools or they can clean out their desks and get out.”

“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 said Board President David Vitale has been in contact with the private management firm. Vitale and other board members had voted earlier this year to give Aramark a $260 million contract to manage the district’s custodians and cleaning supplies.

Vitale “told them they have to step up and meet the letter as well as the spirit of that contract, and that’s what will happen,” Emanuel said.

Vitale said he had a “productive conversation” with Aramark’s chief operating officer that “the company must provide consistent, first-class service to the students, staff and teachers in Chicago Public Schools, who deserve no less. Aramark is fully committed to whatever it will take to ensure our schools have the clean, comfortable learning environment that our children need to succeed, including immediately adding more than 50 custodial employees in our schools at its own expense.”

Principals have complained in a survey conducted by AAPPLE, an activist arm of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, that since Aramark took over, schools have not been well cleaned, supplies are inadequate and that they and teachers spend more time than ever cleaning the schools.

CPS, when presenting the Aramark proposal in February, said the district would save money, schools would be more thoroughly cleaned and principals would be freed from managing their janitors so they could focus on instruction.

Many told the Sun-Timesof filthy conditions, including dead rodents and bugs, and mouse droppings. Through AAPPLE, they have called for the contract to be canceled.

Despite the problems, CPS announced that more than 400 janitors will receive pink slips at the end of the month. Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said they are employed by private companies, so it’s not the district laying them off.

Julia P. Valentine, a spokeswoman for SEIU Local 1 which represents the affected janitors, said that the union has told Aramark in “ongoing discussions that while the company’s plans do create some efficiencies, when it comes to the janitors, Aramark’s cuts run way too deep to maintain the same level of cleanliness. Local 1 can work with Aramark and principals on a number that enables schools to be maintained at their previous level of cleanliness. These are the same janitors who, working hand in hand with the principals, have maintained the cleanliness and hygiene of these schools for children, teachers and staff for years.”

Aramark spokeswoman Karen Cutler said in an email that Aramark has been training CPS custodial staff on new equipment, and is “confident that this new program will deliver the savings and results we promised the CPS administration and the mayor.”

“Aramark’s top priority is to make sure that CPS students, faculty and staff have clean, comfortable learning environments,” she wrote. “We recognize the importance of a smooth transition and are meeting with every principal in the district to address their concerns, as well as review our program, which we have in place at hundreds of school districts across the country.”

Cutler did not answer questions about the company’s contact with Vitale or about how the expected layoffs could affect cleanliness.

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