Our Pledge To You


EDITORIAL: It’s on CPS to fix the mess at filthy schools fast

Drake Elementary School, 2710 S Dearborn, which failed in pest-control and bathroom categories during a "blitz" inspection on Dec. 17.

Drake Elementary School, 2710 S Dearborn, which failed in pest-control and bathroom categories during a "blitz" inspection on Dec. 17. | CPS

There is no excuse for Chicago’s public schools to be filthy.

The Chicago Public School system, after decades of financial mismanagement, is frightfully in debt and nobody is keen on spending another dollar on anything.

But sorry, CPS. Find a way.

There is no way our city can accept rats in a school or students having to use grimy, smelly bathrooms.

Janitors told us last week, in response to recent Sun-Times reports about the deplorable conditions in many schools, that they are doing all they can with limited resources. Their stories have about them a strong ring of hard-earned truth.

The janitors told us about working shorthanded, after years of cutbacks, and having to bring their own cleaning supplies to schools if they want to do a good job. The private companies CPS hired in a cost-saving move, Aramark and SodexoMAGIC, and their subcontractors don’t give custodians enough mop cloths or cleaning solution.

“We ask for supplies,” Maxine Gladney, a janitor at Powell Elementary, told us. “They tell us, ‘It’s not in our budget.’”

It’s all pretty simple. It is on CPS and the contractors to get the job done right. Whatever that takes.


Compromising the quality of cleanliness in our city schools is an excellent way to drive families right out of the city, which Chicago has seen enough of. CPS already has lost 21,000 students in the last two years.

A snapshot of the schools’ grimy conditions came to light late last month, when the Sun-Times’ Lauren FitzPatrick reported that only 34 of 125 schools passed “blitz” inspections by the district’s facilities department and Aramark. “Blitz” inspections had been prompted by the discovery of rats and rodent droppings throughout Mollison Elementary in Bronzeville last fall.

SEIU janitorial workers, from left, Judith Jenkins, Maxine Gladney and Maria Villegas say they only get sufficient supplies to clean their schools when an inspection is coming. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

“I have seven grandchildren in CPS,” Gladney, the janitor at Powell, told us. “I want my school to be sanitized like I would like my grandchildren’s school, my home. I keep my home sanitized.”

CPS is a doing a lot right when it comes to educating students amid a years-long budget crisis. Graduation rates are rising. A recent Stanford study singled out Chicago for the educational growth its students make between the third and eighth grades.

The district, though, gets a failing grade when it comes to keeping schools clean. And, to be clear, this isn’t on the janitors. It’s on CPS and the companies that manage the custodians and skimp on personnel and supplies.

The janitors are members of the Service Employees International Union Local 1, which is part of a coalition of labor unions with an ownership stake in the Chicago Sun-Times. SEIU is demanding that additional workers be hired.

The custodians, who are in the midst of trying to negotiate a new contract, expressed frustration about breakdowns in machines that are used to clean floors, leaving a bare-bones staff with more to do.

“OK, you put machines in. You took out bodies,” janitor Judith Jenkins said, referring to layoffs. “Now the machines are down and out.”

Drake Elementary School, 2710 S Dearborn St., failed pest and bathroom categories during its CPS “blitz” inspection on December 17, 2017. It was one of 125 schools that were inspected after a rat infestation was discover at Mollison Elementary in Bronzeville. | CPS provided photo.

In the past, as FitzPatrick reported, CPS officials brushed off complaints about cleanliness by pointing to the high “pass” rates for inspections done by an independent firm that monitors the companies’ work.

But those audits came with a catch. Company supervisors at Aramark and SodexoMAGIC knew they were coming. An inspector at a private company told FitzPatrick that CPS had him directly notify the cleaning companies about which schools he’d be examining over a month or so. Inspections were done by zip code, and the companies could figure out the inspector’s pattern.

Sometimes, extra janitors would be dispatched to help clean a school when an inspection was imminent, the janitors told us. Schools could pass even if some areas were dirty if they had scored enough points in other areas to pull up their average.

“When there is an inspection coming, we leave some things that we do daily, we leave them to clean the stairwells really well. They’re [the inspectors] going to enter through there,” Maria Villegas, who cleans Sayre Language Academy, told us. “The person who inspects enters the first floor, checks the bathrooms, checks the stairwells, but doesn’t go to the upper floors.”

In the last six months, CPS has revised its standards. Failure to clean one major area could result in failing an audit.

Our suggestion to CPS: Make sure your inspections are random so you see and smell what kids and teachers experience every day. Survey schools from top to bottom.

And demand a heck of a lot more. Chicago’s children are not second-class kids.

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