Chicago schools become overcrowded disease factories feeding children rotten food as district runs out of money
A new deal between the Chicago Public School (CPS) system and a private custodial and cafeteria service was promised to save the district tens of millions but instead resulted in some students having to clean their own school before the school year began and being served rotten food for lunch.
In February, CPS, the third largest school district in the nation, signed contracts worth $340 million to privatize their custodial services, an agreement that would take over the training, supervision and management of custodians for 66 Chicago schools, Catalyst Chicago reports.
The concept behind signing the new contracts was that teachers would have more time to teach rather than clean, the schools would save money, and each facility would have a high standard of cleanliness. However, school officials say none of these promises materialized, and in fact CPS conditions worsened, putting children at-risk.
Chicago schools agreed to spend $340 million on cleaning services that resulted in a high turnover of custodians, layoffs and filthier facilities
Two “world class” cleaning services were selected; CPS signed a $260 million contract with Aramark to manage 33 schools and an $80 million contract with SodexMAGIC to handle the remaining 33 facilities.
According to their website, Aramark provides facility management, food service and clothing to schools, sports facilities, prisons and healthcare institutions, and lists Houston Independent School District, Northwestern University and Field Museum Campus as past clients.
SodexMAGIC is a partnership between Sodexo, a French food service, and Magic Johnson Enterprises, a company owned by retired NBA player Magic Johnson.
School officials revealed their frustration regarding poor services and conditions through a survey conducted by AAPPLE, an arm of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association.
About 230 principals said the contracts, which were each signed for three years and were supposed to provide cleaner buildings and use “state-of-the-art” cleaning technology, resulted in a lack of custodians, filthier schools and no new technology.
“It’s a germ factory,” said Michael Flynn, a sixth grade teacher at Otis Elementary in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood. “And it’s as bad now as it’s ever been in terms of kids not getting what they need.”
“It breaks my heart,” said one Chicago teacher who says many students rely on school lunches for nutrition but instead are getting “junk for a meal.”
Last year, budget cuts forced 49 Chicago schools to close, reported The Huffington Post, and dire attempts to save money reportedly led to the privatization of both custodial and cafeteria services.
One teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, said her students were fed “disgusting” meals that included rotten apples and moldy bread on more than one occasion. Some students ate spoiled broccoli before the cafeteria realized their mistake.
Chicago schools accommodate many low-income students who don’t receive proper nutrition at home and rely on healthy school lunches, the teacher said, who worries that her students will get sick.
Some speculate that the contracts were awarded based on cozy ties between Aramark and the school district. The district’s head of nutritional support services, Leslie Fowler, worked for Aramark before being hired by CPS.
Students, parents and teachers asked to volunteer to clean school before the fall season
The principal of a South Side school recruited volunteers to clean before the school’s opening, performing work that included throwing out trash, mopping and sweeping.
The principal of another school said urine was left in toilets for weeks at the end of the school year and classroom furniture was recklessly handled and broken. Other teachers say they’re running out of toilet paper, seeing more bugs than ever (including cockroaches) and are overwhelmed by overflowing trash bins.
“I want to be outside the minute I’m in here,” said one teacher who’s taught for eight years at the facility. “It smells. Everything smells and I can’t focus. If I can’t focus to teach, how can kids focus to learn?”
A proposal by AAPPLE says the contracts should be voided if the schools aren’t brought up to Level 2 industry standards for cleanliness.