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Aramark’s new CPS deal could be more expensive than previous contracts

The Board of Education’s agenda for Wednesday’s monthly meeting sets up a vote that would authorize up to $369 million to Aramark through June 2024, with two additional two-year renewal options.

A door hanger signals a cleaned room at South Shore Fine Arts Academy at 1415 E 70th St. in South Shore on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.
A door hanger signals a cleaned room at South Shore Fine Arts Academy at 1415 E 70th St. in South Shore on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file photo

Chicago Public Schools’ renewed three-year relationship with Aramark could be more expensive than previous agreements, the district revealed Monday as it moved to ask its board to renege on promises to dump the custodial giant.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last week that district officials were planning to award Aramark a new contract to clean CPS’ 600-plus schools just one year after vowing to move on from the company whose record includes filthy schools and inspections cheating. Ahead of that story, CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton denied that officials had decided on a vendor for custodial services. Another company, ABM Industries Inc., had been in the running as a finalist.

Released Monday, the Board of Education’s agenda for Wednesday’s monthly meeting sets up a vote that would authorize up to $369 million to Aramark through June 2024, with two additional two-year renewal options. This week’s school board meeting is set to be the first to allow in-person public visitors since the start of the pandemic.

CPS officials have declined requests for interviews about the contracts.

Asked Monday about the pending agreement, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Aramark would need to improve its work or the deal would be terminated. She said she would hold CPS and Aramark accountable for clean schools — or lack thereof — moving forward.

Lightfoot runs the school system and appointed its leaders, including interim CEO José Torres, who signed off on the new deal.

“I’ve made no secret of the fact that the previous contracts and the lack of accountability” raised concerns, Lightfoot said.

“There have been substantive changes that have been made in the contract. One, shrinking the size of the contract that was awarded and making sure that there was more hands-on facilities management by CPS in a way that didn’t happen before.”

Though CPS officials said the new contract — whose details are not yet finalized — would take managerial power away from Aramark, the price tag could be higher than previous agreements.

The approximately $120 million annual ceiling in the first year of the proposed deal is more than CPS paid Aramark in any single year since its custodial work at the district began in 2014, according to online payment records that show CPS has paid Aramark $541.4M through June 30.

Touted since last year as a move away from privatization, CPS has planned to switch to a new system of managing its facilities that returns oversight and control of its custodial and maintenance services to CPS employees. Another company, Jones Lang LaSalle Americas LLC, or JLL, was awarded a separate contract up to $125.5 million per year for three years to work with the district on those management responsibilities.

But various services such as groundskeeping, snow removal, pest control and cleaning require separate deals — some of which also face a board vote Wednesday — that add to the district’s costs. So do the 900 or so custodians employed directly by CPS rather than by private companies, who were budgeted as of June 30 at $53 million a year in salary and benefits.

The janitorial contract is what’s heading to Aramark, which the Sun-Times revealed in 2018 had been maintaining dirty schools and cheating to pass cleanliness inspections.

“There is no reason — ever, ever, ever — that any of our children should be going into a school that is filthy,” the mayor said Monday. “It should never happen. I expect, particularly at a time of COVID, that our schools are above reproach when it comes to cleanliness.”

Although schools are cleaned thoroughly whenever a Chicago mayor plans to appear alongside news media, Lightfoot made it a point to note that the schools she has visited “over and over again” over the last 16 months have been “spotless.”

“That’s what we want,” Lightfoot said. “And frankly, that’s what our students and their parents should absolutely have every right to expect. And if a vendor thinks they’re gonna get a fat contract and not do their job, those days are over.”

Those schools were less than half-empty as about three-quarters of families opted not to return for in-person learning last year.

“I’m gonna hold CPS accountable to make sure that they are doing what’s necessary to hold the vendors accountable….My expectations on this are real clear: Clean schools. Live up to your contractual obligations. Or get out.”