Dirty schools unacceptable, Chicago Board of Ed says, vowing to keep closer tabs
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The Chicago Board of Education demanded more accountability Wednesday from the two Chicago Public Schools contractors hired to oversee cleaning duties, saying dirty schools are unacceptable.
That followed reports in the Chicago Sun-Times that 91 of 125 schools failed “blitz” cleanliness inspections in December — and more than 50 schools operating under the “integrated facilities-management model” CPS is in putting in place to improve things failed their most recent cleanliness audits by an outside inspector.
Parents of CPS students complained to the Board of Ed on Wednesday that it’s been assuring them for years that their children’s schools were clean based on inspections the Sun-Times reported got passing marks as a result of cheating.
“We were suspicious of what was happening” with the private companies and “voiced it at the time,” said Joy Clendenning, a longtime Local School Council member now with the parents group Raise Your Hand.
“You owe a lot of people apologies,” Clendenning told the board Wednesday at its first meeting since the Sun-Times began documenting dirty conditions at many CPS schools.
She has been among a group of parents who have regularly complained to CPS officials about dirty schools and a lack of such basic supplies as soap and toilet paper since the school system privatized cleaning and other oversight of school facilities beginning in 2014.
In December, CPS began inspecting its own schools — which had been passing independent cleanliness audits — and found problems such as filthy floors, dirty food-service equipment and smelly bathrooms at 91 of the 125 schools it examined.
Janitors at two schools have told the Sun-Times that schools passed the outside audits because their bosses told them when the inspector was coming, giving cleaning crews time to prepare, and that extra help and supplies were brought in.
Frank Clark, the chairman of the Board of Ed, has frequently pointed to those audits when parents complained. He offered no apology Wednesday for that, blaming CPS’ staff the bad information.
Addressing Arnie Rivera, who took over as CPS’ operations chief in February and is overseeing the renewed efforts to keep the city’s schools clean and safe, Clark pointed to the man who previously had those duties, Jose Alfonso de Hoyos-Acosta. Clark said to Rivera that he used to ask whether the schools were clean, and “your predecessor assured us — and I think he believed it. The quality of his answer was questionable.”
Clark and other board members had approved a series of contracts to expand the privatization of school facilities work — things like cleaning, landscaping and pest control — the facilities-management shift that began at some schools in 2014 and is to include all Chicago schools as of July 1.
Now, they are demanding more accountability from Aramark and SodexoMAGIC, the two companies hired to oversee that work. They have been required to do surveys once or twice a year.
Mark Furlong, another member of the Board of Ed, whose members are appointed by the mayor, said he wants to see results more often so problems can be addressed more quickly.
Rivera and Leslie Fowler, CPS’ facilities chief, pointed to steps they’ve taken that include hiring more people at CPS’ central office to oversee the private contractors and authorizing them to charge fees to penalize the contractors if schools aren’t properly cleaned.
“We’re not going to spare any resource in ensuring that every one of our schools meets our standard,” Rivera said.
Rivera repeated Wednesday that putting facilities work at each school under the oversight of either Aramark or Sodexo — instead of having them responsible only for cleaning, with other work handled by CPS school engineers — will lead to improvements.
Jaime Guzman, vice president of the school board, said he’s not convinced. Guzman said that principals he has spoken with at schools under the integrated facilities model have the same complaints as those where only cleaning was privatized. Guzman said those principals are tired of reporting problems and not getting them fixed. And none of those schools were inspected yet.
Acknowledging those doubts, CPS CEO Janice Jackson, who until now has been publicly silent about the dirty school conditions, said, “What we are not going to do is over-promise anything without real evidence.”
Jackson promised there will be accountability — from CPS staffers, contractors and anyone else paid to take care of the schools.
“There are no sacred cows,” Jackson said. “So we will continue to report until it’s up to a satisfactory level, but what I won’t do is make a comment about one thing being better the other because we just quite frankly don’t have enough evidence to support that.“