Chicago School Board Moves To Privatize Engineers

electrician from pixabay
electrician from pixabay

Chicago School Board Moves To Privatize Engineers

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School board members voted on Wednesday to allow two companies to take over the management of engineers in 50 schools. Engineers do upkeep and facility management at schools.

By the 2017-2018 school year, if school district leaders go through with their current plans, all engineers will be working for a private company, as opposed to Chicago Public Schools. This move to privatize management of engineers follows a similar change for custodians, who were placed under the company Aramark two years ago.

School district officials have argued that privatizing these services is cheaper and more efficient. However, the hiring of Aramark for custodians was met with sharp criticism from principals, who said their schools were dirty as the company cut the number of custodians, changed their hours and gave them different task lists.

The approval of the contract on Wednesday expands a pilot program in which custodians and engineers work for the same private company.

SodexoMAGIC already has 33 schools where they manage the engineers and custodians in what is called integrated facilities services. Under the new agreement, they will take over 30 more.

Aramark already manages custodians in all the schools where SodexoMAGIC is not. Under the agreement, they will take over managing engineers in 20 schools.

CPS will not pay the company’s additional money to assume this extra management, according to the board report. Aramark’s existing contract is for $260 million, while SodexoMAGIC has an $80 million contract.

But taking on this extra work will likely pay off for these companies. In April, Chicago Public Schools announced it was proposals to find a company to provide integrated facilities management for all the 400-some district-run schools.

Chicago School Board President Frank Clark says by awarding an integrated facilities management contract for the entire school district, he has been told that CPS will save enough money to keep 100 teachers employed. He did not put a pricetag on how much were expected savings, but an average teacher salary is about $70,000 so the school district is likely looking at about $7 million in savings.

William Iacullo, president of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 143, questioned board members about why they would give SodexoMAGIC and Aramark the benefit of participating in an expanded pilot program, while the district is in the process of awarding a big contract for the same services.

The expanded pilot program was not bid out, but, because it is expected to be cost neutral, it doesn’t have to be, according to district officials.

Iacullo pointed out that no other companies are getting a chance to try out providing these services and that Aramark and SodexoMAGIC seem like shoe-ins to get the work.

Iacullo says he doesn’t think it is a good idea to privatize engineers through this integrated facilities management contract.

“What I am worried about is the services being reduced because no company can make money off the Board of Ed without reducing services,” he says.

Iacullo says the school district should go back to having engineers report to principals. In 2012, engineers and custodians were put under the purview of the school district central office.

Sarah Karp is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow her @sskedreporter or @wbezeducation