Chicago Public Schools officials have agreed to give $259 million in additional work to a company that couldn’t keep city schools clean, records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show.
Aramark will be handed control of all facilities work at most of Chicago’s schools on July 1, according to its contract, which CPS officials tried to keep under wraps.
The company, based in Philadelphia, is being given all oversight for cleaning the schools, pest control, landscaping and other tasks that in the past typically have been overseen by a school’s engineer — what CPS calls an integrated facilities-management model.
Since 2014, it has managed the cleaning of hundreds of Chicago schools — including all 125 that CPS inspected from December to February and found rife with problems. Just 34 of the schools passed those cleanliness examinations, the Sun-Times reported last month, prompting Mayor Rahm Emanuel to say he was “beyond outraged.”
CPS officials have acknowledged having problems with dirty schools.
But they say putting one contractor in charge of overseeing all of the facilities services will better ensure that schools are clean and safe than having Aramark handling just cleaning and having overall authority for school facilities divided.
Aramark was responsible for cleaning at the schools that were checked during those surprise inspections but not for other facilities work.
Still, more than 50 of the schools that already were operating under the integrated-management model failed their most recent independent audits for cleanliness, a Sun-Times review of CPS documents shows.
Leaders of the school system say they have put measures in place to hold Aramark more accountable. The company’s 112-page contract includes controls that CPS didn’t require in a similar deal with another contractor. Among them, Aramark will be required to survey principals twice a year, rather than once, and to make monthly reports of any complaints or inquiries from the public, according to its contract, which took nearly a year to work out.
An Aramark spokeswoman wouldn’t comment, referring questions to CPS.
CPS responded with with a written statement, saying, “We are committed to making sure that all schools remain in good condition and will work with principals, staff and the community to address any issues.”
A trial had been underway in several dozen Chicago schools since 2014 to shift services that typically were being overseen by a school engineer into the hands of private contractors. Under former CEO Forrest Claypool, the Chicago Board of Education moved to privatize the rest of CPS’ school facilities work in 2017, voting that January to authorize spending $427 million to do that as of July 1, 2017.
CPS officials said then they wanted to consolidate all facilities services under a single authority at each school to make it easier for principals to get problems at their buildings taken care of.
Dividing the schools into 13 geographic zones, CPS awarded contracts in January 2017 for six of those to Aramark.
Four others were put in the hands of SodexoMAGIC, which will be paid an estimated $168 million under the expanded program in addition to $60 million for overseeing schools in the pilot program.
Final details of the deal with Sodexo were reached in about six months, and its 105-page contract was signed last July 5.
But contract talks with Aramark dragged on until this January — a year after the Board of Ed agreed to the contract and far longer than the 120 days it typically allows to finalize any contract.
Both contracts are for three years, can be extended for two more and include clauses allowing CPS to cancel them at any time without any financial penalty.
The prices agreed upon in Aramark’s and Sodexo’s contracts don’t cover some facilities work. For instance, snow removal costs extra.
Although rodent infestations were the reason that many schools in the CPS surprise inspections failed, neither contract specifies how often pest-management treatment will be done at schools.
Another additional cost: Following an outcry over revelations about dirty schools, CPS agreed to permanently hire 100 more custodians and to bring in another 100 this summer to deep-clean schools at a cost of about $7 million. The custodians are represented by SEIU Local 1, a union that’s part of the investor group that owns the Sun-Times.
Also, CPS’ facilities department will hire its own managers to oversee the vendors.
Contracts covering three zones of schools have yet to be awarded — two on the North Side and one on the South Side. CPS was looking at another company for that work but abruptly cancelled that plan two days before the school board’s January 2017 vote.
CPS says it won’t say how much per square foot it’s paying each company until that work is done. Officials also won’t say how much they’ve paid their contractors for startup or transition costs.