The dirt on privatization

A while back I wrote the to-date-least-liked post I've ever done. It was a hy-larious satire about privatization and how it is the Republican answer to every question. It was so comical, see, because in our blue city, our blue leaders were pursuing school-system privatization in ways that would make Milton Friedman blush. And so funny coming from me, a Republican. Har har.

Actually it was mostly confusing to my dear readers. They didn't know whether I was playing it straight or being snarky. But frankly, it's kind of a murky line when it comes to privatization in this city. Who's on which side?

Here we are living in a left-wing liberal Democrat hall of fame--which is now leading the nation in right-wing dissolution of public services in the name of saving money.

Back then I had no idea just how far these right-leaning, blue-masked leaders of ours would go in pursuit of privatization. Just what risks they'd face to implement a pure totality of privatization. Just what dark corners and crevices they'd open up as they dug, dug, dug ever deeper to reach the privatization treasure buried deep underneath the ugly surface of public services.

They do it because it works, right? Money is always saved, efficiencies are always created. Because services run by the city are always poorly managed. We've certainly fixed up a lot in Chicago.

Parking meters--been there, done that! Bridges--so over them! Street lights --check! Charters, turnarounds, and school closures--old news!

Last spring it was time for a bold new idea.

Privatize the school custodians!

Get rid of the dead wood--those old unexcellent overcompensated janitors laboring under the supervision of the harried principal who clearly needed freeing from this odious responsibility. Change out the cleaning technology--out with the old-style, useless mops and brooms, in with the zamboni, the single cleaning solution from a centralized supplier, and the microfiber floor wipers.

cleaner schools

So maybe those old janitors knew their whole school, the building, the staff, and the kids. But how much trouble and annoyance could be avoided if all the responsibility for keeping the school clean, all the oversight, was taken away from the school and put in the hands of a private corporation! And how much money would be saved!

So CPS awarded the no-bid contract to Aramark. Yeah, that Aramark--the ones who also now have the contract for school lunches. Aramark can handle the oversight of custodial services--Aramark can nimbly send custodians hither and thither as needed, doling them out with speed and accuracy--Aramark can save us all money!

For $260M, CPS turned over entirely all custodial operations to this agile, prudent, thrifty, cleanly Aramark.

Here's a chart from Tim Cawley's February address to the Board of Ed when he presented the plan. It's full of hope and efficiency. Out with Today, in with Tomorrow!

cps power point


Cawley said CPS is aiming for APPA Level 2 standards for cleanliness. APPA is an education facilities management oversight agency. Level 2 is described as follows:

Floors and base molding shine and/or are bright and clean.

There is no buildup in corners or along walls. But there can be up to two days worth of dust, dirt, stains, or streaks.

All vertical and horizontal surfaces are clean, but marks, dust, smudges, and fingerprints are noticeable upon close observation.

Lights all work and fixtures are clean.

Washroom and shower fixtures and tile gleam and are odor free. Supplies are adequate.

Trash containers and pencil sharpeners hold only daily waste and are clean and odor free.

Those are decent enough standards, seems to me.

So how would this be done?

Back in those halcyon planning days before the contract was implemented, Cawley told the Board all about it. He said that "Aramark would assume all custodial management, invest in new equipment, and train, schedule, and supervise the work of 1800 custodians. SodexoMAGIC would use energy efficiency improvements, such as...a 'Zamboni' machine that would deeply and efficiently clean hallways...."

Such a lovely vision.

But let's fast forward to now, and see what has crawled out of those dug-up dark corners and crevices in the search for privatization buried treasure.

Roaches, rats, and now even bedbugs.

Shall I delineate for you the nature of this custodial services privatization gig? I've been asking around. Listening. You listen too.

Deep cleaning occurs at night, maximizing efficiency and quality.

One teacher slipped on a floor that had had the wrong stuff used on it, her feet went right out from under her, she landed on her shoulder, couldn't move her head--just as students were trooping in for the day.

"Teacher's bathroom smells so bad it is hard to use it at all."

"Garbage cans disappeared, stuff has been broken. Bathrooms are atrocious, garbage not emptied despite girls putting in tampons and such. Broken stuff not getting fixed because not enough staff anymore. Graffiti not getting cleaned up. Garbage left in hallways and on stairs."

"No soap dispensers in bathrooms."

"We were missing trash bags for 2 to 3 weeks."

"2nd floor teacher's restroom gently streaming water on half the floor & sprinkled with cigarette ashes along the edge since end of last school year! Washroom floors are filthy; the ring of dirt around the trim keeps getting wider. I've killed many a roach, too. Even bought my own roach traps, because I was tired of having company in the restroom."

"Every single day I'm killing insects or capturing rodents."

"They are recycling the trash can liners."

"No bags in the garbage cans!"

"Since the new crew has been in one of my schools: women's bathroom always smells of urine; soap empty half the time; papertowels empty half the time; garbage cans (in the classrooms, bathrooms, and/or my room) not emptied daily, or emptied in the middle of the day (not at the end of the day); no garbage bags for the cans; roaches...."

Best-in-class training

"I watched two workers trying to empty a classroom garbage can: most of the contents were spilled on the floor; it was as if they had never handled a garbage can before in their life."

"I actually had to explain to them that failing to remove the gang-related graffiti that appears on desks on a daily basis creates a dangerous situation in my classroom."

Summer cleaning crews pitched a teacher's entire desk--locked, and full of records and lesson plans and everything, just everything this teacher had. The desk had a broken foot.

"My floor is swept once a week, sometimes twice. They miss huge sections when they do sweep. Bathrooms stink. The floors are never mopped. Friday they closed all the blinds in my room and in the process ripped one from the roller."

Call center as single point of contact to report emergencies and request work orders for all facilities management

"Vomit not cleaned up for more than an hour and a half."

"Never see the same people from one day to the next!"

"Our engineer is doing the best he can, but they have him split between 3 schools now!"

ARAMARK manages custodians

One grade school that had 4 full-time janitors now has one half of a janitor.

Two adjacent schools serving 900 kids, formerly cleaned up by 6 custodians, now down to 2.

A high school with a staff of 35 now down to 10.

* * * * *

And all this, ladies and gentlemen, is before the end of this month, when nearly 480 more custodians are being fired. But as Barbara Byrd Bennett assures us, it's not her responsibility. It's just part of the contract.

Efficiency, quality, and cost savings--that's the privatization treasure CPS was after. But I'm pretty sure they dug up the wrong thing. Perhaps they didn't need to be digging in that dirt at all.

If you want a better Chicago Public Schools system please like my Facebook page and join me there for more discussion. You can also follow me on twitter @foolforcps.

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