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CPS facilities chief’s ouster over dirty schools ‘about us holding ourselves accountable,’ district CEO says

Clarence Carson’s departure Thursday came 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.

Waste baskets were overflowing at Eberhart Elementary because of a lack of custodians, school staff and parents say.
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Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez said Friday the ouster of the district’s facilities chief amid new complaints of filthy school conditions was a “message about us holding ourselves accountable.”

During a news conference at Comer Children’s Hospital aimed at encouraging parents to get their kids vaccinated, Martinez made no bones about why Clarence Carson — a CPS parent brought in three years ago to fix cleanliness issues that preceded him — no longer worked for the district.

“We’re gonna hold ourselves accountable,” Martinez said. “I won’t discuss about specific staff, those are personnel matters. But I will assure you whatever challenges are in the district, we’re gonna make the changes we need to make to hold ourselves accountable.”

A CPS spokeswoman hasn’t responded to requests to confirm Carson’s departure. Martinez’s comments, though not specifically mentioning Carson, were the closest the district has come to acknowledging the move.

Carson couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.

It isn’t clear if CPS has also moved to hold Aramark accountable for its custodial work. The district has largely blamed custodial staffing shortages for the most recent cleaning problems — the system has about 300 fewer janitors than needed, a spokeswoman has said.

Carson’s departure Thursday came 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 students, parents and teachers complained about seeing roaches and about floors and bathrooms that went unwashed in the absence of enough custodians to staff the schools.

On Friday, Martinez said those conditions, which have been documented at some schools citywide since at least 2018, are “unacceptable to me.”

“I was very disturbed, even about not having our contact tracing [and] our COVID testing up and running. The mayor’s been disturbed about that,” he said.

“My commitment to our board, to the mayor, to the parents and the community [is] we’re gonna hold ourselves accountable. And I will make changes as needed. And just know that’s gonna be the way we’re gonna work.”

Carson, a career facilities management professional with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the field, is the second consecutive facilities chief to face this fate over issues with school cleaning.

Carson promised to correct problems with janitorial companies Aramark and Sodexo, which were the target of many complaints since CPS privatized cleaning in 2014. But while Carson’s new facilities management system gave the district more control over its contracts, he also ended up extending Aramark for three more years and hundreds of millions more dollars. And problems quickly emerged this fall.

Martinez said newly appointed interim facilities chief Ivan Hansen “has a strong track record” and has the experience and contacts needed to clean up the school mess.

“He worked with the city before managing facilities,” Martinez said. “He’s been managing our capital program. What’s great is, he also has access to multiple vendors to help us as we’re short on staffing and custodians.”