The most recent headlines about the filthy school buildings and the mismanagement of the city of Chicago Schools, indicate there is need to stop any further privatizing of school services. In 2012 Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS CEO Claypool privatized custodians(cleaning personnel) in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) costing taxpayers $94 million annually in management fees, a function CPS operating engineers previously performed at no extra cost as part of their day-to-day duties. The mayor now plans to privatize operating engineers citywide, costing Chicago taxpayers nearly $200 million more annually in management fees and lost pension contributions. Chicago’s mismanaged public schools, has NO business privatizing any tax payer funded positions.

Every Illinois school board is elected and subject to financial safeguards under Illinois law requiring transparency and three year cost/impact studies before outsourcing public services to for-profit management corporations. The only exception is the Chicago Board of Education, giving the mayor and the UNELECTED School Board complete discretion to privatize without accountability or justification. As a direct result, in 2012, CPS began privatizing select Chicago schools absent cost/impact studies, public scrutiny and customary transparency. SodexoMagic and Aramark have received nearly $800 million contracts to privatize engineers and custodians. SodexoMagic made an extraordinary campaign contribution of $250,000 to Mayor Emanuel. Aramark Corporation has charged CPS with over $20 million in cost over-runs.

This citywide privatization will mean there will be NO CPS employed personnel at any of the 600 school buildings so accountability and staffing will be left to profit driven companies discretion, giving them unlimited latitude to reduce services and staffing at each school and increase their profits. This unchecked action by CPS is despite Sodexo and Aramark’s public record of poor performance at CPS and at school districts nationwide. Both corporations have been removed from countless school districts nationwide for unethical practices, poor performance and, as to Sodexo, widespread racial discrimination. In 2010, New York’s Attorney General won a $20 million settlement from Sodexo for overbilling school districts. In 2005, Sodexo paid $80 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the company’s thousands of African American employees who were denied promotions and segregated in the company.

Closer to home, as has been reported, complaints about dirty school buildings have increased and the results of reduced services to make profits are now taking toll on the aging buildings. Students and teachers have had to put up with unsanitary conditions which were never evident when the Engineers and Custodians were CPS employees and did not take direction from a profit motivated contractor. Principals routinely report unsanitary bathroom conditions, lack of cleaning supplies, overflowing garbage cans, rodent and insect infestations under Sodexo and Aramark’s management. Imagine when the engineer who is in charge of the safety, climate and day to day operations is no longer a CPS employee and has to take direction from a contractor whose main goal is to make a profit. Not only will the buildings be dirty but the safety will be left to the discretion of a contractor whose main purpose is to make a profit.

CPS’ exemption from cost/impact study provisions under Illinois law has given rise to these controversial for-profit management corporations that divert hundreds of millions in scarce public funds from classrooms and taxpayers’ pockets to profits. The city of Chicago taxpayers should demand the same fiscal safeguards and transparencies afforded every other school board in Illinois by ending CPS’ exemption from cost/impact studies and preventing CPS from giving unnecessary lucrative contracts at the taxpayer’s expense.

William Iacullo
President, IUOE Local 143