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CPS building engineers say privatization effort will be costly

Chicago Board of Education logo

Chicago Board of Education logo. | File photo

Chicago Public Schools building engineers say a plan to put the rest of the district’s schools under private facilities management companies is going to cost the broke school system dearly.

And they’re surprised the district has already planned which schools will be managed by Aramark and SodexoMAGIC before the Board of Education has inked a deal with the two companies, whose past work has drawn complaints.

CPS won’t say how much the “integrated management services” might cost, nor would the district demonstrate they would save any money for the school system still begging state lawmakers for $215 million to balance its current operating budget.

“I know damn well they will not save any money,” said Bill Iacullo, president of the International Operating Engineers Local 143. “They’re wasting big-time money, and they know it.”

Chicago is the only school district in the state not required to publish a cost study before privatizing services, Iacullo said.

CPS wants the transition complete by the summer of 2018. Few details about the new plans have been publicized.

RELATED: CPS to ask Board of Ed for $535M for facilities deals

A vote to put the rest of CPS schools under Aramark and SodexoMAGIC for things like pest control, snow removal and some building repairs could come as soon as the school board meeting Wednesday. More than 80 schools are part of a pilot program.

CPS spokesman Michael Passman said the meeting agenda, scheduled to become public by 10 a.m. Monday, wasn’t finalized as of late Friday. He wouldn’t say anything about cost or savings, referring to a press release from April when CPS put out a request for proposals that described the conversion as “cost neutral.”

Passman touted a “single point of contact” for principals to manage their buildings.

Troy LaRaviere, head of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, said school leaders do want that single point of contact; they just want control over school engineers back.

Of 269 principals who responded to an annual survey about facilities, 88 percent “agreed or strongly agreed” when asked, “Should CPS return engineers to the supervision of principals?” he said. Five percent disagreed.

“Why are we paying these companies several hundred million dollars to do what our engineers already do?” LaRaviere said. “This is not integrated facilities management. This is absentee facilities management. The people who are supposed to manage our engineers are not in our buildings.”

Carbon monoxide problems in schools last year — namely at Prussing Elementary, where children and teachers were hospitalized — happened after engineers were absent, he said. LaRaviere also questioned why companies that have cost more than projected and continue to draw complaints are being rewarded with more work.

CPS paid Aramark more than $7 million extra in its first year of cleaning schools because 3.2 million square feet, including 22 entire schools, weren’t included in original estimates.

CPS pays SodexoMAGIC, a partnership between Sodexo and NBA great and mayoral campaign contributor Magic Johnson, to oversee engineers as well as custodians in 63 schools. The initial $80 million, three-year contract for 33 schools was approved in 2014, at the same time as a $260 million Aramark deal to privatize custodial management.

Aramark’s cleaning results, which immediately angered school leaders, overshadowed those of SodexoMAGIC. The district has insisted that SodexoMAGIC’s pilot schools felt “very positive” about services.

Aramark also began overseeing 18 schools in the facilities management pilot program when it was expanded last May and added six more late in the summer, Passman said.

Aramark spokeswoman Karen Cutler said that “Aramark’s custodial contract with Chicago Public Schools continues to operate on budget and deliver the service and savings the company promised the school district and taxpayers. . . . As for our ability to provide additional IFM services beyond the pilot locations, we are confident.”

About 480 engineers working for CPS will be laid off, though the district says they can reapply for their jobs under a different union. It’s not clear how many will qualify or how much they will be paid.

Iacullo said when they go, some will be able to take a lump-sum retirement payout, which will pose an additional cost and further burden on the Municipal Employees’ Annuity and Benefit Fund.