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Principal rep: 'Terrified' about schools' snow-removal plan

Chicago Principals Association President Clarice Berry said Monday that school cleanliness issues triggered by the privatization of janitorial management have not yet been resolved, and she is “terrified” about what will happen when it starts snowing.

Berry was testifying before the City Council’s Education Committee on a transition to Aramark she described as a “train wreck.”

She described an improving situation that hasn’t improved nearly enough.

In fact, Berry said a principal she refused to identify recently went so far as to take her custodial staff to Home Depot to buy brooms because they were “in tears about the level of equipment” they were given to clean the building.

It’s little consolation that CPS has vowed to reimburse principals for “out-of-pocket” spending.

“My principals are buying supplies, buying equipment they shouldn’t have to because of the quality of things in schools,” Berry said.

“Let’s talk about staffing. That is horrific. A school with 900 kids with one custodian in the daytime? We have to collect breakfast. I’ve got assistant principals who are emptying garbage. I ‘ve got all kinds of situations. You cannot run a school with 900, 1,000 or 1,300 kids with one custodian in the morning and one at night. Just last week, we were told some of custodial issues will be taken care of. However, going from one custodian to two or from one to 1.5 is not gonna fix the problem.”

Berry then zeroed in on a four-letter word that sends chills down the spines of Chicago politicians: S-N-O-W.

“I am terrified. We have not had our first major snow in Chicago. What do we do when we’ve got one custodian servicing 900 kids, 12 inches of snow outside, salt that needs to be thrown out, hallways that need to be mopped so people don’t slip, garbage to be taken out, lunch rooms to be cleaned, toilets to be washed out with one, 1 1/2 or two custodians?” Berry said.

“You need bodies in a school…That [equipment] is wonderful if you’ve got a one-story school. But how do you get many hundred-pound equipment up to the third-floor? Most of our schools don’t have elevators…There are no mops, no buckets in the schools anymore. And we keep hearing, `You don’t need those mops and buckets.’ You need `em if you can’t get the equipment to the third floor. You need to have more people in a building.”

Berry wasn’t the only one griping during Monday’s hearing.

Ald. John Arena (45th) complained of janitorial staffers who are being moved around so much, they’re unfamiliar with the buildings they’re charged with maintaining.

“My problem is that you’re doing this at the expense of our kids and the cleanliness that they experienced for an entire half a year … where parents are complaining and kids are complaining there’s no soap to wash their hands and principals are complaining that the bathrooms are dirty and haven’t been clean,” Arena said.

“The expectation is that, if we’re gonna award you a $340 million contract that you think about this before you implement and don’t say, `Sorry, we’ve had 300 people leave.’”

Arena said he personally saw empty soap dispensers in one of his Northwest Side schools just three weeks ago.

He was not appeased when Trevor Ferguson, regional vice president for Aramark, insisted that the problem had been solved by Aramark’s decision to “standardize” soap dispensers before Thanksgiving.

“You’re telling me that what I saw and what I heard literally three weeks ago is not happening except I saw it and heard it,” Arena said.

Ferguson countered, “There was a plan to install those dispensers over months. At the district’s request, we accelerated that process and brought in thousands of dispensers and installed them over a three-week period which ended roughly a week ago. So, they are in every school now.”

Ferguson insisted that Chicago Public Schools are “cleaner than they were when we got here” and that problems caused by absenteeism are being resolved.

“The staff has stabilized. We have processes in place to stabilize the daytime custodians as well as the second-shift custodians. Things are stabilized. Open seats are down significantly. Folks are showing up to work. They’re doing their jobs and we’re training them,” he said.

“The absenteeism rate here is higher than industry standard [among people] our sub-contractors hired. We have a process underway where we’re providing subs for those people who are absent so that there’s always someone in those chairs. When someone is there, usually the work gets done. The school gets cleaned.”

Ferguson argued that Berry’s fears about what happens when a major snowstorm hits are unfounded.

“The district has a snow plan,” he said.

“This isn’t the first time it’s snowed at CPS. This plan has been in place for years and it’s worked for years.”