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CPS says there is a ‘sense of urgency’ to hire more custodians, clean schools

“We do understand the urgency behind not only identifying folks who can help us on the custodial front, but certainly to get them staffed and hired as soon as humanly possible,” an official said at the monthly Board of Education meeting.

The Chicago Teachers Union held a press conference Wednesday to demand clean, safe and fully-staffed schools outside the Chicago Public Schools headquarters in the Loop.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Chicago Public Schools replaced its facilities chief and organized custodial hiring job affairs in response to concerns around filthy schools in the district, but officials defended school conditions in general at the Board of Education’s monthly meeting Wednesday.

“We want 100% satisfaction with our custodial services,” the Board of Education president Miguel del Valle said. “But all it takes is one problem, one school to get attention and all of a sudden, the generalizations occur, and schools are dirty.”

With 600 schools in the district, CPS CEO Pedro Martinez cautioned Wednesday against highlighting one unclean school and making generalizations about cleanliness districtwide.

“That is not fair to the district, that is a discredit to our staff,” he said.

The Chicago Sun-Times has documented unclean conditions at schools, including a Southwest Side elementary school where teachers, staff, parents and kids took it upon themselves to clean their own learning environment. CPS janitors also spoke out about understaffing and having to buy cleaning supplies with their own money, among other problems.

CPS has since ousted facilities chief Clarence Carson, who was hired in 2018 as a direct response to filthy school conditions at that time and tasked with correcting the problems. Ivan Hansen was appointed as acting chief facilities officer on Nov. 8.

“I have seen a sense of urgency immediately from that date,” Martinez said.

Martinez said Hansen has continued after-hours cleaning for schools in need of supplemental resources. Hansen has also streamlined a cleaning dashboard to identify and resolve critical cleaning issues.

CPS has largely blamed staffing shortages for the lack of cleanliness in some schools. At the meeting Wednesday, officials said CPS is holding hiring job fairs this week for custodians, with a focus on neighborhood hiring.

The acting facilities chief is also bringing in supplemental vendors to address schools that have reported especially significant challenges with cleanliness.

“We do understand the urgency behind not only identifying folks who can help us on the custodial front, but certainly to get them staffed and hired as soon as humanly possible,” Interim Chief Operating Officer Lindy McGuire said.

CPS has previously told the Sun-Times it needs to hire an additional 300 custodians to adequately clean schools, while the Chicago Teachers Union has estimated the shortage to be closer to 500.

Stacy Davis Gates, the vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, called on CPS to use its increased federal funding to invest in the cleanliness of school facilities.

“The mayor of this city doesn’t want to clean the schools. She is okay with our children going to school in filth in the middle of a pandemic,” Davis Gates said at a press conference before the meeting. “We have been hearing what we have been experiencing for years. Our buildings are our not clean because we are not paying for clean. We are paying for dirty.”

Board member Lucino Sotelo acknowledged the district did not have a history of consistently clean buildings in every community. He said there was a lack of confidence in the situation from principals and community members.

“We need to have that extra scrutiny to make sure that we do not allow for those filthy buildings to continue,” Sotelo said. “We need to be responsive and we need to be authentic with the principals when they do raise their hand.”