CHICAGO — Chicago principals, teachers and other Chicago Public Schools employees are slamming the school district's plan to hand over more work to Aramark, the contractor whose maintenance services have sparked outrage for years.
"We've tried this before, we've seen this film, and it ends badly," Jesse Sharkey, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, said Wednesday.
A coalition of the school district's principals, teachers, and building engineers spoke out Wednesday on a CPS plan to privatize building engineer work in nearly 50 more schools.
The school district believes the move will simplify building maintenance for principals, but union members argue the new contract will waste millions of dollars and deliver subpar work from Aramark, whose custodian services have been sharply criticized by parents and principals.
David Matthews on the latest controversy to embroil CPS.
"Privatization has led to filthy schools and deplorable conditions for our students," Sharkey said. "This needs to be stopped, not expanded."
In 2014, CPS awarded an $80 million contract to the contractors to handle engineering work at 33 schools. The Chicago Board of Education voted last month to expand that "pilot program" to more schools.
CPS says the expansion comes at no additional cost, a claim the coalition disputes. Yet the coalition said it did not have its own estimate on what the Aramark expansion could cost.
Right now the district's engineer services are handled by the district's engineers union, which maintains school boilers, fixes windows, and performs other building maintenance.
Aramark and SodexoMAGIC, two contractors that already do building engineer work at some CPS schools, received district approval for work at more schools last month.
Aramark and Sodexo received more than $300 million in contracts for CPS custodian services two years ago, but their work has been slammed by principals, parents and teachers who say they have to clean their own classrooms due to the contractors' shoddy performance.
Engineer officials are worried the contractors won't have the expertise to manage the buildings' boilers, some of which date back nearly 100 years.
Dozens of students and teachers at a Jefferson Park school were sickened last year after a faulty boiler leaked carbon monoxide throughout the building.
“When scarce public funds are diverted to private profit with little fiscal accountability, when principals are denied oversight of custodians and engineers in favor of distant corporate managers, and when the safety and cleanliness of our schools deteriorate for lack of adequate staffing by skeleton crews – schools, children and learning suffer," Bill Iacullo, president of CPS Local 143 Engineers, said.
The coalition proposes that CPS withdraws its approved, expanded contract and appoint an independent lawyer to review the terms of the deal. The coalition is also lobbying the City Council and Springfield to introduce legislation requiring that school districts including CPS offer a cost-benefit analysis to privatization proposals.
Troy LaRaviere, the embattled principal forced out of his Blaine Elementary post in Lakeview, now leads the district's principals union and believes his criticism of the expanded Aramark/Sodexo contracts led to his controversial reassignment.
"More than ever before we were beginning to see—not only the power I was up against—but the threat I might pose to those powers if I could use the role of [union] president to call attention to private companies’ plans to divert hundreds of millions of dollars from our schools into their bank accounts," LaRaviere wrote on his blog last month.
Michael Passman, a CPS spokesman, said in a statement that "we recognize there is a need to improve facility services, and initial results from the pilot project suggest it is a more effective way to maintain our schools."
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