What do you get for $340 million? Filthy schools

School principals in Chicago are complaining that since the Chicago Public Schools privatized custodial services their schools have not been properly cleaned and that as a result, they are spending too much time dealing with cleanliness issues rather than education.

Earlier this year, the Chicago Board of Education decided to privatize school custodial services and awarded school cleaning contracts to two multi-national corporate vendors, Aramark and Sodexmagic. The cost of the contracts over a three-year period is $340 million.

As a result of the privatization deal, school custodians report to their private employer rather than school principals.

The board promised that the privatization deal and the change in command resulting from it would lead to better services at a lower costs.

But a recent survey of principals found that custodial services have deteriorated badly since Aramark and Sodexmagic began cleaning the schools. According to the results of the survey, many Chicago schools are just plain filthy.

Valerie Strauss, writing for the Washington Post, reports that Chicago principals in the survey complained of “serious problems with rodents, roaches and other bugs, filthy toilets, missing supplies such as toilet paper and soap, and broken furniture.”

One of the reasons that schools aren’t getting cleaned is the private contractors have not hired enough custodial staff.

“I am still trying to figure out how we care going to clean the schools with four (cleaning staff) in a school that has 1,000 kids,” wrote one school custodian in comments appearing in an article published by Catalyst Chicago.

The understaffing problem looks to get even worse. Aramark has announced that by the end of September, it will lay off 476 school custodians, a 20 percent staff reduction.

When the layoffs occur, the problems keeping the schools clean “will only be exacerbated,” said Julie Valentine, a spokesperson for SEIU Local 1 to the Chicago Sun Times.

The filthy state of Chicago’s schools has caused a number of principals to publicly voice their complaints about the private contractors.

Troy LaRaviere, principal of Blaine Elementary in an e-mail to other principals that was partially reprinted by Strauss,  called the contracts with Aramark and Sodexmagic a “massive unethical wast of tax dollars.”

“That’s $300 million that should have been committed to education of the children in you schools; instead, those funds are being squandered to the profits of a corporation with a history of being ridden (with scandals) across the United States,” wrote LaRaviere.

LaRaviere is the chair of Administrators Alliance for Proven Policy in Legislation and Education, a group of activist principals within the Chicago Principals and Administration Association.

AAPPLE was the group that initiated the survey that resulted in so many negative responses from Chicago principals. Fixing the custodial problems has become a priority AAPPLE. Instead of overseeing education too many principals are spending too much time trying to keep their schools clean, said LaRaviere in his e-mail

According to LaRaviere, if Aramark and Sodexmagic can’t deliver the services that they promised, CPS should void their contracts.



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