This article was originally published on May 24, 2015.
Chicago Public Schools somehow forgot about 22 schools, including a selective enrollment high school, in its estimate to hire Aramark to manage school janitors.
That mistake — in all, the district underestimated by nearly 3.2 million square feet the amount of space Aramark would have to clean — cost the district an additional $7 million in the controversial contract.
Last month, when the oversight came to light, CPS wouldn’t say how many facilities had been skipped, but instead advised filing a Freedom of Information Act request for the details.
Those records, obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times, show that King College Prep High School is the largest of the buildings CPS failed to count. That elite test-in high school in Bronzeville, home to about 700 students, measures 255,000 square feet, according to CPS.
Also overlooked were 17 more neighborhood schools, including the top-rated Alcott College Prep High School; four charter schools; and two “options” schools for kids at risk of dropping out, the records show.
Twenty-four more annexes and branches of other schools also were forgotten when CPS’ facilities department measured the district’s space before releasing its request for proposals in June 2013. Square footage was never submitted for two more charter campuses, and CPS also overestimated many sites, including seven school stadiums that turned out to be smaller than expected.
The counting snafu cost the district an extra $7 million per year over its estimated $64 million in the first year of the contract, yet another debacle in the $260 million contract to privatize custodial management with Aramark, which has been repeatedly criticized for failing to keep the schools clean.
CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey said the district would have spent the $7 million anyway once all the space was counted. He conceded that Aramark and other companies may have submitted different bids if they had known about all 54 million square feet upfront. He also said that Aramark charged CPS the same rate for the space discovered later.
Despite being asked repeatedly, McCaffrey refused to say how entire buildings got overlooked. Nor would he say who was at fault or how the district miscounted its space so badly.
“CPS regrets this error and is committed to ensuring this mistake cannot be repeated again in the future,” he said.
The Aramark deal was touted by Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley in early 2014 as a way to save CPS up to $40 million over three years. According to Cawley, the district was poised to save $18 million this year alone by handing janitorial management over to the Philadelphia-based Aramark.
A great deal of the savings were to come from cutting janitor positions; some of those layoffs were delayed after principals grumbled about dirty conditions.
By the start of school, the complaints about filthy schools and principals embroiled in managing the cleaning started rolling in. Several surveys taken by members of the Chicago Teachers Union, the parent group Raise Your Hand and AAPPLE, an arm of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, reported mass confusion in janitorial management, vermin, and lack of enough supplies or custodians.
Aramark spokeswoman Karen Cutler has stood by her company’s work. Reached last week, she would say only that Aramark did not do any of the initial measuring, and she referred all other questions to CPS.
CPS mom Jennie Biggs couldn’t believe how many schools were skipped.
“I don’t know what to say about that but: ‘How does that happen?’” said Biggs, also a board member of the parent group, Raise Your Hand.
“One of the big arguments Cawley made at that initial board meeting was the amount of money this would save the district. And he kept repeating it again and again,” she said.
He turned out to be wrong, she said: “It’s disturbing that you would even miss out on that many schools when you’re supposed to be in charge — on so many levels.”