School reformers today, operating under the illusion that the private sector can do just about everything better and cheaper than government institutions, have been working to privatize public education by contracting out to private entities key operations of schools — and often entire schools. Such a move with the custodial force in Chicago Public Schools has, principals say, led to a mess.
Nearly half of the principals in the district responded to a survey by the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association and said that ever since the school district awarded $340 million in two custodial management contracts in February to private concerns, their schools have been filthy, according to Catalyst Chicago. Principals reported serious problems with rodents, roaches and other bugs, filthy floors, overflowing garbage bins, filthy toilets, missing supplies such as toilet paper and soap, and broken furniture — issues they said they didn’t have before. Now, many said, they spend a lot of time trying to clean their buildings.
The three-year contracts were awarded to Aramark ($260 million) and Sodexmagic ($80 million) to clean Chicago’s schools. At the time, school district spokesman Joel Hood issued a statement saying that the contracts would give “measurable benefits” that will make the schools “significantly cleaner while also saving the district tens of millions of dollars.” The district said a survey had showed that most schools were not clean enough before the contracts were awarded.
There’s more: Now about 475 custodians who work under the management of Aramark — out of the district’s force of 2,500 — are going to be laid off, district officials said, a move that angered Troy LaRaviere, principal of Blaine Elementary School and chairman of the activist arm of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association that sent out the survey. He sent an e-mail to principals that said in part:
“They don’t have enough custodians as it is and now this private company wants to lay off nearly 500 more in order to decrease their payroll and increase their profit margins at the expense of our schools and our students.”
The Chicago Sun Times reported that last week, Aramark sent an e-mail to principals saying that it had “heard — loud and clear — the concerns raised by principals” and that it realized the company had “not delivered on the promise of making principals’ lives easier.” It said it would hold meetings with principals to solve the problems.
Here’s a recent e-mail that LaRaviere sent out to principals, published with his permission.
Public opinion is a powerful influence on the decisions of public officials. Principals, therefore, have a responsibility to keep the residents of Chicago informed so they can encourage public officials to do the right thing for our schools and our students.
Thanks to several anonymous and named principal colleagues of ours, the public is beginning to get a sense of the effects that privatized custodial management is having on our schools. The following Aramark related articles were all published this Monday.
Dirty schools the norm since Cawley/Emanuel push to privatize custodians. Catalyst Chicago, by Sarah Karp.
Cawley/Emanuel push to privatize CPS custodial contract causing problems at start of school year. WBEZ.org and Chicago Public Radio, by Becky Vevea.
A school that could start out clean…. Substance News
I will be forwarding these articles to my staff, my LSC, and to all of my students’ parents. I recommend you do the same. I will forward my parent message to all of you so that you may use it to construct your message if you choose to.
The attached screenshot is of an email I was mistakenly copied on by Aramark management. Their email was written in ALL CAPS and reads as follows:
“BLAINE PRINCPAL – THIS PRINCIPAL NEEDS ATTENTION ASAP – JEFF BARLOW – CAN YOU COMMUNICATE….DIRECTLY TO PRINCIPAL LARAVIERE AND LET ME KNOW WHAT IS THE DATE AND TIME OF THE PRINCPAL ENGAGEMENT MEETING?”
This is what happens when you’re willing to take your legitimate issues to the public.
However, it is not enough for my own schools’ issues to get addressed; all of our school cleanliness issues need to be addressed, from the north side, to the south side, to the west side. For that to happen, more principals and assistant principals need to speak up publicly.
We principals are public servants, not political servants. Our duty to serve and inform the public is far stronger than any claims of allegiance to elected or appointed officials in CPS and at City Hall. This does not mean we should revert to the court of public opinion over trivial disagreements with CPS administration; no organization could operate that way. However, when CPS Central Office officials pay corporations like Aramark and Sodexo over $300 million in public school funds to monumentally botch a job our engineers once did at no extra cost, we must seriously consider our responsibilities as public servants to inform Chicago’s residents of this massive unethical waste of their tax dollars. That’s $300 million that should have been committed to the education of the children in your schools; instead those funds are being squandered to increase the profits of a corporation with a history of being ridden by one scandal, after another, after another, across the United States.
Thanks to our sincere and devoted colleagues who were interviewed for the above stories, the CPS/Aramark scandal is beginning to reach the public consciousness. Additional media sources are lining up to speak to principals about the effects of this botched contract on your schools. If you are interested in adding your voice to those who have already spoken to the public, just respond to this email. You may send your response to my private email if you wish (email@example.com).
You may speak as a known source or as an anonymous source. The journalists will respect your decision either way. The point, however, is to help our colleagues in their efforts to inform the public of this unethical waste of pubic school funds, and of the unbelievable incompetence of the people behind this debacle; incompetence that has lead to serious concerns about the cleanliness of our schools and the safety of the students we serve.
Again, if you would like to join the ranks of your colleagues who have helped us inform the public, just respond to this message.
We are public servants. Let’s serve the public, and serve them well.
Principal, Blaine Elementary School
Parent, Kellogg Elementary School
Graduate, Chicago Public Schools (Mollison ES & Dunbar HS)