Hundreds of school custodians to be laid off

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Some 476 custodians, one-fifth of the 2,500-some employed by CPS or private companies, are in the process of being laid off, says CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey.

These layoffs are happening despite the fact that principals are furious with the way their buildings have been cleaned over the past few months since the district turned over management of custodial services to two companies with $340 million in contracts. Last week, Catalyst reported that 230 principals responded to a survey and said that cleaning of their buildings was inadequate and that they were losing staff.

Troy LaRaviere, chairman of the activist principal group AAPPLE, responded angrily to the news.  AAPPLE sent out the survey to principals.

“They don’t have enough custodians as it is and now this private company wants to lay off nearly 500 more in order to decrease their payroll and increase their profit margins at the expense of our schools and our students,” LaRaviere wrote in an e-mail to principals, which he shared with Catalyst.

LaRaviere wrote that already, principals were reporting rat droppings, having to keep a plunger in an office so she can unclog toilets and paying people out of their own pockets to move furniture.

CPS is actually not laying off the staff. Starting in March, the district contracted out with Aramark for $260 million and with SodexoMAGIC for $80 million. SodexoMagic is handling all the maintenance needs of 33 schools, including custodial managing, snow removal and electricians. Aramark is managing, supervising and training the custodians in the rest of the buildings.

CPS head of Asset Management Leslie Norgren insists that the No. 1 goal of contracting with the private companies is to make the buildings cleaner. She says the second objective is to save money and the third is to make principals lives easier.

She says that before the privatization of the custodians, a third-party company examined the schools and found only 20 percent met cleanliness standards. Aramark and SodexoMAGIC have until January to bring all the buildings up to standard.

She is confident that can happen with all of  the new equipment that Aramark and SodexoMagic are bringing in. “We are going from mop and bucket to some of the schools having rides,” she says.

This was the same argument made by Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley in February when he presented the plan to CPS’ Board of Education. He said the district would save $40 million a year, on top of $50 million he’s already saved.

In addition to using state-of-the-art technology, he said that the companies will streamline the ordering process. He said CPS was using 1,000 vendors to provide cleaning supplies.

At the time, Cawley did not say there would be layoffs as a result of the contracts.

Norgren says that only $18 million of the savings will come from the Aramark and SodexoMAGIC contracts, while the other $20 million will come from other efficiencies.

The custodians being laid off work for private companies that had contracts with Aramark and are unionized by SEIU Local 1. CPS employs 825 custodians who are part of SEIU Local 73.

LaRaviere says that in conversations with Cawley, Cawley told them not to focus on the number of custodians, but on the work that needs to be done. He does not buy that argument.

“The number of custodians assigned to work in our school is directly correlated to the likelihood of the work being done adequately and on time,” LaRaviere says.  “No transparent, competent, well-intentioned administrator would ignore this basic element of human resource planning. But that’s not what we’re dealing with here.”