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Schools CEO: privatizing janitorial services not 'as smooth as we would like'

Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett admitted Monday that turning over management of school janitors to two private companies hasn’t been going very well.

“Obviously it has not been as smooth as we would like,” Byrd-Bennett said. “We have met with principals. We continue to do so and I think in a very short time, you will see a change.”

In February, the Chicago Board of Education awarded two contracts, worth a total of $340 million, to two private companies, Aramark and SodexoMAGIC. These two contracts combined make it one of the largest privatization moves of any school district across the country. Under the agreements, SodexoMAGIC would oversee 33 schools, while Aramark would oversee the remaining 500-some district-run schools.

CPS Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley sold the idea to board members as making schools cleaner with new equipment, such as “zamboni-like” floor cleaning machines, and making principals’ lives easier, with “Jimmy John’s-like” customer service when supplies run low.

But so far, the outsourcing seems to have led to dirty schools, property damage, poor communication and janitors being laid off. Those complaints came to light in a survey of more than 230 principals conducted by the Administrators Alliance for Proven Policy and Legislation in Education, or AAPPLE, a member-driven arm of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association.

WBEZ first reported the story early last week.

On Friday, 475 janitors officially received layoff notices. Byrd-Bennett says the district is not responsible for those cuts. 

“I’m not laying anybody off,” Byrd-Bennett said. “That’s up to the contractors that we’ve contracted with. They are going to come up with a system for us that will get the work done.”

CPS employs 825 custodian positions that are covered by SEIU Local 73 and none of those positions are being cut, according to district officials. However, many of those board-funded janitors have been reassigned to cover other schools as a result of the layoffs.

District officials continue to insist that schools are not dirty and that the private contracts with Aramark and SodexoMAGIC are saving them money.

Becky Vevea is a producer and reporter for WBEZ. Follow her @WBEZeducation.

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