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CPS Privatization Deal Benefits Emanuel Campaign Contributor

One of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s campaign contributors is in line to get more business from the city’s school system.

The Chicago Board of Education will vote Wednesday on three new contracts -- worth around $500 million over three years -- that will further privatize the management of school building engineers. One of the two companies listed on the board report is SodexoMAGIC, a company that NBA-star-turned-businessman Earvin “Magic” Johnson has a stake in. 

Johnson donated $250,000 to Emanuel’s 2015 reelection bid through an organization he established called Inner City Youth Empowerment, LLC. If approved by the board, the new contract would expand a pair of contracts awarded in 2014 worth $340 million. 

When SodexoMAGIC and Aramark began overseeing the cleaning and management of school facilities, principals complained about dirty classrooms and a lack of communication. 

Troy LaRaviere, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, said it’s frustrating that the district is expanding contracts for companies that haven’t performed well.

“If a company does a shoddy job on your basement, you don’t give them a contract to do your roof, but that’s exactly what CPS did,” he said.

Most of the complaints were directed at Aramark, which also went millions over budget in the first year.

Chicago Public Schools spokesman Michael Passman sent a fact sheet to reporters that admits the initial year of the last contract “did not meet our standards for school cleanliness” and the way Aramark was working had “inherent deficiencies.”

The contracts being voted on by the board on Wednesday will move Aramark to the same management model used by SodexoMAGIC, called “Integrated Facilities Management.” It will phase in over two years, with most of the city’s schools getting privatized facilities management by summer 2018. 

In a letter to principals, CPS Chief Administrative Officer Jose Alfonso de Hoyos-Acosta said SodexoMagic’s management model will “simplify your work as a school leader and improve communication and accountability among your custodial and engineering staffs.” 

The new contracts will cost $1 million more than the previous contracts, according CPS officials, but less than what the same services cost before privatization. Passman did not respond to WBEZ’s request for more detailed financial information by the time of publication. 

Bill Iacullo, president of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 143, which represents Chicago school engineers, said the new contract will cost the district more than just $1 million.

“If I didn’t have all these years of experience, I wouldn’t be able to realize what a waste,” Iacullo said. He said he has served as a building engineer for more than three decades, mostly at Lincoln Park High School.

Iacullo noted that since the state passed school reform in 1995, Chicago has been exempt from a provision in the school code that requires districts to publish a “cost impact study” when it wants to privatize a service. He demanded the district do so before the board vote. 

There is also a state law that requires building engineers to report directly to school principals in Chicago, but under these contracts they would not be reporting to principals. 

However, there are almost 90 schools that are not covered in the contract proposals up for a vote Wednesday. (CPS officials say they will issue a bid for the same services to cover schools in district Networks 3, 4, and 9.) 

A letter was already sent to current building engineers notifying them of a management change. It said that current CPS engineers will be hired by the private companies, provided they meet the same hiring standards. 

Iacullo said the letter violates part of the union’s current contract, which requires he be notified of any such letters two days in advance of them being distributed.

Dennis McGovern, the building engineer at Grimes/Fleming Elementary, Dore Elementary and Blair Early Childhood Center, said it shouldn’t be about money.

“It’s dangerous for the kids in the school,” McGovern said, referencing a recent boiler leak at Prussing Elementary that caused carbon monoxide poisoning. McGovern has been a school engineer for almost 20 years and said he knows his buildings like the back of his hand. 

“At my one school, I know all the kids that are allergic to peanuts, all the the teachers health problems, (who has) asthma, all the special air filters they take in the ducts,” McGovern said.

He said he used to oversee Byrne Elementary before it was assigned to a private company to oversee. Since then, he said, Byrne has had three different engineers cycle through the job.

Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. You can follow her at @WBEZeducation.

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