CPS to rehire Aramark to clean schools, despite pledge not to – and the company’s record on dirty schools

A month before teachers and students return to Chicago public school buildings and in the midst of a wave of the highly contagious variant of COVID-19 Delta, district leaders are still finalizing who will clean up. classrooms – and are considering rehire Aramark despite a history of problems with the janitorial juggernaut.

With the support of Mayor Lori Lightfoot, CPS leaders announced last year that they would abandon private facility managers Aramark and SodexoMAGIC, who for years had almost complete autonomy to maintain schools, many of which are remained dirty. The plan was to hand over the control and oversight of cleaning and maintenance of hundreds of schools to CPS employees while finding a new supplier to help manage these operations.

But even with a new business in place, the shift to a different model of facilities management dragged on and left little time for a complicated transition. The compressed schedule has led SodexoMAGIC to warn the school system to “put itself and potentially its supplier partners at high risk of failure” as time is running out during the summer vacation.

Pressed for time a year after declaring its relationship with Aramark over, the CPS backtracked and planned as early as Friday to ask the Board of Education next week to authorize the rehiring of Aramark to clean all of its school buildings, learned from the Chicago Sun-Times. .

District officials promise more surveillance this time around.

While masks, social distancing, and proper ventilation have proven to be the most effective in tackling the airborne coronavirus, the stakes around clean schools are still going strong this fall. Families and health experts are worried about the latest mutation of COVID-19, the disturbing and transmissible Delta variant that is causing an increase in cases in Chicago and around the world.

About two-thirds of the 340,000 CPS students are under 12, still too young to be shot. Only 36% of Chicago’s children over 12 have been fully immunized.

Since Chicago reopened on June 11, rates of COVID-19 cases have nearly doubled and over the past week have jumped 69% with a daily average of 115 new infections – well below the peak of the year last but going in the wrong direction. About 17 children a day have been diagnosed with the virus over the past week, according to city data.

In order to alleviate parents’ concerns, interim CEO José Torres told families on Thursday that the PSC will continue to require students, staff and visitors to wear masks indoors, that they may or may not be vaccinated, except when eating or drinking.

He said some children will have breakfast and lunch in classrooms, not just cafeterias, to keep children three feet from each other when possible. This means more food and waste sources, more potential mess to clean up.

Most new janitors are not yet at work

However, the vast majority of the 400 new guardians that CPS has pledged to recruit during the pandemic and keep for the next school year have not been hired.

The Sun-Times documented serious problems with the performance of Aramark and SodexoMAGIC, a long-time source of complaints to the Board of Education from parents and school staff.

Before 2014, engineers and school principals managed their own buildings. But under the outsourcing system first introduced that year, the two companies handled all operations, including managing various other vendors each specializing in services such as grounds maintenance, snow removal, pest control and cleanup.

By 2018, schools had gotten dirty and Aramark had cheated to pass cleanliness inspections by notifying schools when inspections were coming. CPS has promised to hire more cleaning staff and better monitor its suppliers.

Months after the pandemic lockdown, district leaders announced that oversight of cleaning and other services would return internally by the 2021-22 school year, with CPS employees overseeing private companies performing these services. . The contracts with Aramark and SodexoMAGIC were to be phased out before July 1.

This spring, CPS said it needed more time to transition and therefore extended its contracts until September 30.

The new business model allows a supplier, working hand in hand with CPS staff, to oversee various service contracts. A request for tenders was issued last September, but the tender was canceled a day after the deadline for responses because CPS wanted to “increase competition,” according to a letter to district officials from SodexoMAGIC. complaining this summer about the process.

A second nearly identical request followed days after the cancellation, garnering offers from Aramark and SodexoMAGIC, as well as Jones Lang LaSalle Americas LLC, or JLL, which missed the first round.

Chicago-based JLL prevailed, with members of the Board of Education clearing a deal in June to spend up to $ 125.5 million a year for three years.

CPS will not say whether its contract which was to start on July 1 with JLL has been finalized. JLL generally manages real estate and business facilities and does not show any K-12 schools work on its website.

A JLL representative did not return any messages for comment.

In addition, another request for a quote for concierge services was also issued last fall. Three of the bidders were called back to present to the board, says one of them, Chicagoland Janitorial LLC. The other two were Aramark and ABM Industries Inc. – who had ties to a recently indicted high-level CPS staff member and whose CPS contract offer was already canceled at the last minute due to his mismanagement. allegations of sexual abuse.

Chicagoland Janitorial, a local business made up of seven minority and women-owned businesses, was told months ago of its failure, leaving ABM and Aramark in the race.

CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton said at one point in the process the district accidentally told ABM it would get the new janitorial contract, but clarified that error.

Then, for reasons he won’t explain, CPS chose Aramark, sources said. Bolton has denied that a decision has been made.

A teacher receives disinfectant wipes during a class at Jordan Community Elementary School in the Rogers Park neighborhood on Friday morning, January 15, 2021.
Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

The best of bad options

A source familiar with the process said there were issues with each of the bidders and, for some in the district, Aramark was the best of the bad options.

When asked about the deal, ABM spokesman Michael Valentino was unaware that Aramark would be chosen and said: “We understand that the bidding process remains open.”

The CPS would not make any officials available for an interview until Monday morning, when the agenda for Wednesday’s school board meeting is released.

Bolton said in an email that the district was “unable to discuss a recommendation for a child care provider at this time,” but stressed that under the new system JLL would work with CPS to “reshape facility support for schools”. The role of the custodian supplier, Bolton said, would in turn be less important with “much more oversight and transparency”.

Mayor César Rodriguez’s spokesperson and Aramark spokesperson Heather Dotchel declined to answer questions, referring them to the CPS.

SodexoMAGIC, owned in part by ex-NBA superstar Magic Johnson, only bid on the larger facilities contract, according to a spokesperson.

But delays in setting up a new company – a transition CPS told bidders would occur last February or March and now slated for October 1 – have led Sodexo executives to warn CPS twice in writing. that their new deadlines were unworkable, especially since the three main executives of CPS were pretty much leaving.

“If the CPS continues, it could place itself in a ‘disaster waiting to happen’ scenario,” read an 8-page May 7 email to the outgoing district director of operations, obtained by the Sun-Times.

A day before the board of directors unanimously approved the JLL deal last month, Sodexo also filed an 8-page protest with CPS, renewing its warnings about decisions that could allow the Chicago Teachers Union to “raise unsubstantiated allegations and create political theater and negative media attention.” – and questioning the legitimacy of the call for tenders process.

WCB negotiations continue with the district on health and safety measures for the fall.

All students will be required to wear masks in schools this fall, except when eating in classrooms or the cafeteria.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times

The Union foresees future problems

By the time of the new bid, CPS responding to JLL’s questions after a deadline to do so had passed and “JLL’s decision to respond to the new solicitation after refusing to respond to an almost identical bid raising signals. alarm about the process ”, the letter from SodexoMAGIC reads. “Awarding a new contract to a supplier who lacks experience in the public school system at this point is ill-advised and poses serious risks to the board, the students and parents it serves, as well as the principals, teachers and other staff of more than 600 Council schools.

Both times, SodexoMAGIC has offered to extend its own multi-million contracts to give CPS more time to adjust to its new model.

Bolton of CPS said the district had “ample time” for the transition. Asked about the letters from SodexoMAGIC, Bolton said existing suppliers “continue to have the same resources and staff, and should fulfill their contractual obligations for the safe opening of schools on August 30 and a smooth transition. to the new model on October 1 “.

SEIU Local 73, the union that represents custodians employed by the school board, predicted problems would arise with the new facilities management model, as they did with previous systems.

“Any private organization that takes over, we have a concern. Our experience has not been positive, ”said union executive Science Meles. “We’ve been through all of these changes and every time they’ve said this time around is going to work. And it didn’t work. “

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