The recent headlines about filthy schools and CPS mismanagement makes one thing very clear: Chicago should stop privatizing school services.
In 2012, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and then-CPS CEO Forrest Claypool stepped up the privatizing of custodians (cleaning personnel) in public schools, at a taxpayer cost of $94 million annually in management fees. Yet this was a function that CPS operating engineers previously performed as part of their day-to-day job duties, at no extra cost to taxpayers.
The mayor now plans to privatize operating engineers citywide, which will cost Chicago taxpayers nearly $200 million more annually in management fees and lost pension contributions. Chicago has no business privatizing any taxpayer-funded jobs.
Every Illinois school board, except Chicago’s, is elected and subject to financial safeguards under Illinois law, which requires transparency and three-year cost and impact studies before public services can be outsourced to for-profit management corporations. Because Chicago is the only exception, the mayor and his hand-picked, unelected School Board have complete discretion to privatize services without accountability or justification.
That’s how CPS began privatizing custodial services in select schools, absent cost/impact studies, public scrutiny and customary transparency. SodexoMAGIC and Aramark Corporation have received nearly $800 million in contracts to privatize engineers and custodians. Coincidentally, SodexoMAGIC made an extraordinary campaign contribution of $250,000 to Emanuel. And Aramark has charged CPS with over $20 million in cost overruns.
This citywide privatization will leave CPS without any district-employed engineers, and few custodians, at its 600 schools. Accountability will be left to the discretion of profit-driven companies, giving them unlimited latitude to reduce services and staffing at each school in order to increase their bottom line. CPS is planning this unchecked action despite Sodexo and Aramark’s public record of poor performance, in CPS and in school districts nationwide. Both corporations have been removed from numerous school districts for unethical practices, poor performance and, in Sodexo’s case, widespread racial discrimination. In 2010, then-New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo won a $20 million settlement from Sodexo for overbilling 21 school districts and the state university system. In 2005, Sodexo paid $80 million to settle a class action lawsuit brought by thousands of African American employees who were routinely denied promotions. At the time, it was one of the largest race-related job bias settlements in history.
Here, as has been reported, complaints about dirty schools have increased since Sodexo and Aramark were brought in, and reduced services are taking a toll on aging buildings. Students and teachers have had to put up with unsanitary conditions that were never evident when engineers and custodians were CPS employees and did not take direction from a profit-motivated private contractor.
Principals now routinely report unsanitary bathroom conditions, lack of cleaning supplies, overflowing garbage cans, rodent and insect infestations — all under Sodexo and Aramark’s management.
Imagine what will happen when the engineer, who is in charge of the safety, climate and day-to-day operations of schools, is no longer a CPS employee and has to take direction from a contractor whose main goal is to make money. Not only will buildings be dirty, but childrens’ safety will be left to the discretion of a contractor whose main purpose is to rack up profit.
CPS’ exemption from the cost/impact study provisions under Illinois law has given rise to these controversial for-profit management schemes that divert hundreds of millions in scarce public funds from classrooms and taxpayers’ pockets to profits for private corporations.
Chicago taxpayers should demand the same fiscal safeguards and transparencies provided to every other school board in Illinois. The CPS exemption from cost/impact studies should be reason enough to scrap any further privatizing and prevent the district from giving unnecessary, lucrative contracts to outside companies — at taxpayers’ expense.
William E. Iacullo is president of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 143
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