This article was originally published on September 16, 2014.
Chicago Public Schools is holding its private cleaning contractors accountable for complaints of filthy buildings being lodged by principals, and conditions will change, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett told reporters Monday after speaking to the City Club of Chicago.
“We recognize obviously it has not been as smooth as we would like. I think in a very short time, you’ll see a change,” Byrd-Bennett said after a half-hour speech lauding recent successes at CPS.
She said she was not concerned by a report Monday that amid the complaints of inadequate service, one of those private contractors is set to lay off 470 of its janitors.
“They are going to come up with a system for us that will get the work done,” Byrd-Bennett said of Aramark, which has a $260 million contract over three years to clean all the schools. CPS operates 516 schools.
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, also speaking to reporters at the event, said the privatization isn’t working, and that both contractors, Aramark and SodexoMAGIC, should be fired. SodexoMAGIC has an $80 million contract for overall facilities management in some pilot schools.
Byrd-Bennnett and Lewis were responding to complaints by principals since school started that many of their buildings aren’t being cleaned to standards — inviting problems with bugs and rodents — after CPS privatized janitorial services in the schools this year to the tune of $340 million.
Principals have complained of equipment that was missing, broken or misplaced; of janitorial supplies that don’t hold up to school use; and of having to spend extra time overseeing cleaning or hiring extra help out of pocket.
“First and foremost, we absolutely want our schools to be clean. We are working with two very well-known, very reputable companies, and where there is work that is not being done, we will hold them as accountable as I hold my people internally,” Byrd-Bennett said, declining to specify what impending change was coming.
“We will share it with you as soon as it’s laid out,” she said of coming action.
The Board of Education voted in February to privatize cleaning services, awarding contracts to Aramark a and SodexoMAGIC.
Many principals say neither CPS nor Aramark have fixed the cleaning problems even after being informed of the situation. The Chicago Principals and Administrators Association is calling on the Board of Education to rescind its contract with Aramark if it can’t maintain “ordinary tidiness” standards known in the industry as APPA Level 2. Aramark has not returned requests for comment.
“I’m hoping that anyone associated with this contract is done, period. This is a mess,” Lewis maintained.
“The Aramark contract is a problem. This is what happens when you have a very short-sighted notion of what privatization can do,” Lewis said. “We are concerned that there are safety issues. People are complaining about rats, mice, roaches, things that they’ve never seen before. The notion that these people are not responsible to anybody in the building. This has been a mistake.“