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CPS facilities chief out amid dirty schools complaints

Clarence Carson leaves less than a week after the Sun-Times revealed conditions so bad at a Southwest Side elementary school that teachers and administrators took to mops and brooms themselves.

With custodians out on medical leave and not replaced, Eberhart Elementary School security guards were tasked with taking out garbage from the lunchroom recently.
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The Chicago Public Schools’ facilities chief is out in the midst of complaints of troubled management of school cleaning services that has left some children learning in filthy conditions this fall, three sources told the Chicago Sun-Times.

As of Thursday, Clarence Carson, a CPS parent with facilities experience who’d been brought in to help sort out earlier school cleaning problems, no longer works in his $175,000-a-year job.

His departure comes less than a week after the Sun-Times documented conditions that were so bad at a Southwest Side elementary school that teachers and administrators had been wielding mops and brooms themselves. Eberhart Elementary School students, parents and teachers complained about seeing roaches and about floors and bathrooms that went unwashed in the absence of enough custodians at the school.

Clarence Carson
Chicago Public Schools

CPS wouldn’t say how many other schools were dealing with cleanliness problems, but crews were paid overtime to get buildings “cleaned and up to CPS standards” citywide last month.

CPS officials wouldn’t comment on Carson’s departure about five weeks into the tenure of new CPS CEO Pedro Martinez, who moved back to the city where he grew up after heading a school district in San Antonio, Texas.

Carson couldn’t be reached.

Ivan Hansen, who’s been CPS’ $162,843-a-year executive director of planning and construction, will take over facilities as acting director, a source said.

The district’s move to privatize custodial work in 2014 — awarding multi-million dollar contracts with janitorial companies Aramark and Sodexo — has been a target of critics ever since. The deals left CPS, and importantly principals, with little oversight or say in the upkeep of school buildings.

And despite the huge cost — the district has paid $920 million to private janitorial firms over the past eight years — the system failed to keep schools clean. That led to the ouster of Carson’s predecessor, Leslie Fowler, in 2018. Complaints and Sun-Times reporting in the weeks before Fowler resigned documented the extent of filth at schools district-wide.

Carson’s idea last year was for the district to regain control of those services and dump Aramark and Sodexo.

But his plans were delayed, leading the district to extend the contracts of both companies — and to pay them each millions of dollars more than originally planned.

Then, despite his announced goals of changing things up, Carson — who was given a $5,000 raise over the summer — surprisingly retained Aramark for custodial services and expanded its work to cover all district schools, including those previously cleaned by Sodexo. The Philadelphia-based Aramark ended up with a new three-year, $369 million contract. CPS also awarded a $375 million, three-year deal to Chicago company Jones Lang LaSalle to help the district oversee its facilities.

CPS took over management of the system staffed by the private companies under those new contracts, as Carson had proposed. That transition took place Oct. 1.

Carson’s departure reflects more turmoil in the troubled management of schools facilities. He was hired in large part because he had a background in facilities management that the district’s chief operating officer at the time, Arnie Rivera, felt could help correct the issues.

While Fowler, his predecessor, had no facilities experience when she was promoted from food service manager to the job by then-CEO Forrest Claypool, Carson had earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in construction and facilities management from Michigan State University, then spent 14 years in various facilities roles in the private and public sectors at Allianz Global, McShane Construction, Berglund Construction, Arcadis and others.

In a recent story titled “Windy City Revival: How One [Facilities Manager] Turned Around Chicago Public School Facilities” for the website FacilitiesNet, Rivera said he turned to Carson after there were “front page stories about how schools are dirty, and I was like, we can’t have this. This cannot be a major point of vulnerability for our district.

“I was looking for a rock star, knowing that facilities management was a major vulnerability for the school district,” Rivera told the website. “Clarence did not apply and had zero interest. I sought him out. I don’t think he was exactly champing at the bit to do it.”

Carson was a parent volunteer at his daughter’s school when Rivera reached out. In that profile, Carson said there were clear issues at CPS he felt he could fix.

“I reorganized our department and created several new positions to help us be successful,” he said.

“We’re going to grow out that team, have longer tentacles and provide even more control, more transparency, through direct control over the contracts through our departments.”