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CPS is rehiring Aramark, a firm with a track record of failure at keeping schools clean

The district says it will limit Aramark’s authority. But this is a firm that managed custodial services at a time when dozens of schools were found to be filthy.

A classroom at South Shore Fine Arts Academy being cleaned after schools reopened in January.
A classroom at South Shore Fine Arts Academy being cleaned after schools reopened in January. CPS must follow through with stronger oversight of two janitorial services firms that have a bad history of keeping schools clean, the editorial board writes.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

A new school year is just over a month away, and over 340,000 Chicago students — a good number of them still too young to be vaccinated — are slated to return to school buildings five days a week.

Nearly 32,000 teachers and other school staff will return to those buildings, too, all amid a newly resurgent pandemic fueled by the more contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus.

To keep the potentially deadly virus at bay, every one of the Chicago Public Schools’ 600-plus buildings had better be well-ventilated — and impeccably clean.

Immaculate schools should go without saying of course, pandemic or not. But we’re making special note of the issue following the news, reported by the Sun-Times’ Lauren FitzPatrick and Nader Issa, that CPS is poised to offer another contract to Aramark, the firm with a well-documented track record of failing when it comes to making sure schools are kept pristine.

CPS, in fact, promised last year to cut all ties with Aramark and SodexoMAGIC, a firm that worked with Aramark. We’re still not sure why the district changed its mind — to the point where the Board of Education will vote Wednesday on whether to authorize a contract of up to $369 million for the company.

But we are sure about this: CPS says Aramark’s role and duties will be severely curtailed — as they should be, given the firm’s track record. Aramark had oversight over janitorial services at a time when dozens of schools failed health inspections and were found to be filthy, with rat droppings, bugs and other problems, as FitzPatrick reported in 2018. Janitors complained that Aramark and Sodexo failed to provide them with enough supplies to properly do their jobs.

Another firm — Jones Lang LaSalle Americas LLC, or JLL — will now manage operations, while Aramark is limited to providing services on the ground. CPS, meanwhile, is promising more stringent oversight of custodial services overall.

The district must follow through on that promise.

Parents, teachers and administrators have complained for years about dirty conditions at schools. And there’s a good argument to be made that school principals and engineers, who know their buildings best, should have authority over janitors and custodial staff — which was the case until Aramark and other private firms were brought in.

Whoever is in charge, this is the bottom line: No child or adult should go to school in anything but a clean building.

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