This article was originally published on December 2, 2014.
Chicago Principals Association President Clarice Berry said Monday that school cleanliness issues triggered by the privatization of janitorial management have not yet been resolved, and she is “terrified” about what will happen when it starts snowing.
Berry was testifying before the City Council’s Education Committee on a transition to Aramark she described as a “train wreck.”
She described an improving situation that hasn’t improved nearly enough.
In fact, Berry said a principal she refused to identify recently went so far as to take her custodial staff to Home Depot to buy brooms because they were “in tears about the level of equipment” they were given to clean the building.
It’s little consolation that CPS has vowed to reimburse principals for “out-of-pocket” spending.
“My principals are buying supplies, buying equipment they shouldn’t have to because of the quality of things in schools,” Berry said.
“Let’s talk about staffing. That is horrific. A school with 900 kids with one custodian in the daytime? We have to collect breakfast. I’ve got assistant principals who are emptying garbage. I’ve got all kinds of situations. You cannot run a school with 900, 1,000 or 1,300 kids with one custodian in the morning and one at night. Just last week, we were told some of custodial issues will be taken care of. However, going from one custodian to two or from one to 1.5 is not gonna fix the problem.”
Berry then zeroed in on a four-letter word that sends chills down the spines of Chicago politicians: S-N-O-W.
“I am terrified. We have not had our first major snow in Chicago. What do we do when we’ve got one custodian servicing 900 kids, 12 inches of snow outside, salt that needs to be thrown out, hallways that need to be mopped so people don’t slip, garbage to be taken out, lunch rooms to be cleaned, toilets to be washed out with one, 1½ or two custodians?” Berry said.
“You need bodies in a school . . . That [equipment] is wonderful if you’ve got a one-story school. But how do you get many hundred-pound equipment up to the third floor? Most of our schools don’t have elevators.”
Berry wasn’t the only one griping at Monday’s hearing.
Ald. John Arena (45th) complained of janitorial staffers being moved around so much, they’re unfamiliar with the buildings they’re to be maintaining.
“My problem is that you’re doing this at the expense of our kids and the cleanliness that they experienced for an entire half a year . . . where parents are complaining and kids are complaining there’s no soap to wash their hands and principals are complaining that the bathrooms are dirty and haven’t been clean,” Arena said.
“The expectation is that, if we’re gonna award you a $340 million contract, that you think about this before you implement and don’t say, ‘Sorry, we’ve had 300 people leave.'”
Arena said he personally saw empty soap dispensers in one of his Northwest Side schools just three weeks ago.
He was not appeased when Trevor Ferguson, regional vice president for Aramark, insisted that the problem had been solved by Aramark’s decision to “standardize” soap dispensers before Thanksgiving.
“You’re telling me that what I saw and what I heard literally three weeks ago is not happening except I saw it and heard it,” Arena said.
Ferguson countered, “There was a plan to install those dispensers over months. At the district’s request, we accelerated that process and brought in thousands of dispensers and installed them over a three-week period which ended roughly a week ago. So, they are in every school now.”
Ferguson insisted that Chicago Public Schools are “cleaner than they were when we got here” and that problems caused by absenteeism are being resolved.
Ferguson argued that Berry’s fears about what happens when a major snowstorm hits are unfounded.
“The district has a snow plan,” he said.
“This isn’t the first time it’s snowed at CPS. This plan has been in place for years and it’s worked for years.