CPS ditching Aramark, Sodexo for facilities management after one more contract renewal

Officials are extending contracts one year to give themselves time to come up with an alternative to maintain the district’s buildings.

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Sawyer Elementary School, 5247 S. Spaulding Ave., on the Southwest Side, Thursday morning, Feb. 27, 2020.

Management of Chicago Public Schools buildings will no longer be outsourced to Aramark and Sodexo starting July 1, 2021, district officials said.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Chicago Public Schools plans to end its maligned relationship worth hundreds of millions of dollars with two facility management companies, one of which for years has maintained filthy schools, in an effort to regain control over the cleaning and maintenance of its hundreds of buildings.

CPS officials are renewing contracts with Aramark and Sodexo for one more year to give themselves time to come up with an alternative, then they’re calling it quits after a turbulent stretch of outsourced work that includes oversight of janitorial, landscaping, snow removal and pest control services.

CPS first tried that model, called integrated facilities management, in 2014 as a pilot program at a few dozen schools. More buildings were then added to Aramark’s and Sodexo’s control each year through 2018 until management of all CPS facilities fell under the two companies’ control. Before 2014, school engineers and principals managed their own facilities.

The change comes as schools remain closed during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Parents and teachers have long lamented CPS’ ability to keep its buildings sanitized, concerns that are heightened while there is no cure or vaccine for the highly-contagious novel coronavirus.

A Chicago Sun-Times series in 2018 revealed filthy, pest-filled conditions at dozens of schools managed by Aramark that failed surprise inspections, even as the district signed contracts to expand the company’s work.

A spokesman for Sodexo said, “We appreciate our partnership with Chicago Public Schools and would defer your questions to them.”

Aramark representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

Arnie Rivera, CPS’ chief operating officer, said the district has taken steps to correct those problems the past year — in part by expanding an in-house facilities team that has performed quality control duties, essentially overseeing the two companies’ work. He said CPS is ready to move on to a new framework.

“We’ve learned a lot over the last couple years,” Rivera said. “Even though there’s a lot of progress that we’ve made, we know there’s still significant work to be done.

“With the lessons learned from IFM, we are certainly well positioned to have a new model starting next year that will provide the district with a much greater level of control, management, visibility, transparency and, at the end of the day, being responsive to the concerns of our stakeholders, like principals.”

Rivera said he doesn’t expect costs to be a factor in the decision making going forward — the focus will be finding the right long-term solution, not saving money at the expense of school cleanliness and upkeep.

These Chicago Public Schools photos show some of the problems that were spotted when 91 of 125 schools failed “blitz” cleanliness inspections.

These Chicago Public Schools photos show some of the problems that were spotted when 91 of 125 schools failed “blitz” cleanliness inspections.

Chicago Public Schools

To give officials some runway to implement the change in its 600-plus buildings, CPS is proposing a one-year, $180 million extension of its contracts with Aramark and Sodexo to the Board of Education at its monthly meeting Wednesday. The extension brings all of CPS’ agreements with the two contractors in alignment to expire June 30, 2021.

Officials are also set to propose an amendment to the previous three-year agreement that indicates the district will pay the two companies up to $33 million more than planned — bringing that contract’s total to $460 million — in part because of costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as premium pay for custodians who have stayed on the job, additional cleaning products and deep cleans of all CPS buildings.

Schools officials have begun to brainstorm about the type of system that will replace Aramark and Sodexo. In January, CPS started looking at what types of models have been effective elsewhere, and next will solicit ideas from school leaders for what they think will work best.

Chief facilities officer Clarence Carson — whose predecessor abruptly left after filthy school conditions were revealed — said the expansion the past two years of the facilities team that he oversees — the one doing quality control on Aramark and Sodexo’s work — has equipped CPS to bring that work back in house.

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