School cleanliness crisis underscores failure of mayor's control over school policy
Chronic under-staffing, failure to provide accountability are hallmarks of mayor's disastrous push to privatize school maintenance.
CHICAGO, March 28, 2018—The Chicago Teachers Union issued the following statement today in response to the latest revelations in the Chicago Sun-Times that schools are plagued by rodent and insect infestations and other health hazards. Remarks can be attributed to CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey:
We've learned this week that Chicago Public Schools has only rigorously inspected fewer than 20 percent of our students' schools for cleanliness issues. The district also has no plan or strategy in place to address filth and vermin infestations in remaining schools, despite the fact that more than 70 percent of the schools it inspected failed initial inspections. That is inhumane and unacceptable.
Our union has a grievance about this appalling situation on its way to arbitration. We attempted to settle that grievance, but CPS recently rejected our proposal, which called for the creation of a multi-union/multi-staff team to address this disaster in real time. We proposed a team that would include teachers, PSRPs, custodial and lunch room workers, CPS representatives—including CPS' top facilities executive—along with representatives from Sodexho and Aramark. We'd asked that this team meet on a monthly basis and also maintain a daily, accessible electronic log to track complaints and issues throughout the system.
Our proposal was designed to empower people at school sites to report problems and unacceptable conditions. All on the committee would be able to view those problems, as a way to facilitate addressing issues rapidly, with the monthly meeting designed to take stock of progress and determine effective ways to tackle the cleanliness challenges we were tracking.
CPS rejected this solution, arguing that they do not want teachers, custodians and lunch room personnel to hold their vendors accountable in a direct manner. Yet CPS itself, at the highest administrative levels, has clearly failed to hold its contractors accountable, instead renewing and expanding these contracts for hundreds of millions of dollars in the last two years alone. This is more than a failure of the contractors, who've short-staffed schools and foisted impossible working conditions on janitors and related staff. This is a fundamental failure of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's privatization scheme, which rewards these contractors and their political affiliates -- some of whom fatten his campaign coffers -- while threatening the health of our students.
This mayor and his hand-picked school board have failed our youth repeatedly, rejecting practical problem-solving in favor of maintaining autocratic control over policies, governance and contracting -- even when the well-being of our city's children is under threat. I urge CPS to reconsider our proposal to better address school filth and health hazards. And once again, we join the majority of Chicagoans in demanding an elected, representative school board that can provide our students and the people of this city with the accountability we demand and deserve.