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“Outsourced: Aramark’s Filthy Mishandling of Chicago’s Public Schools”

By Carol Caref, Ph.D., Jordan Conwell and Sarah Hainds
(Click here to download a PDF of the report) 

Under the guise of saving money and having cleaner schools, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) decided in February, 2014, to outsource the management of school custodians to Aramark and Sodexomagic.  The driver behind this decision is CAO Tim Cawley, who comes to CPS via another outsourcing company, the Academy for Urban Leadership (AUSL).

Mr. Cawley claimed that outsourcing would “result in an enhanced learning environment” and principals will be able to “focus on instruction and family and community engagement”[1]. These claims are very far from the realities in the schools at the start of the 2014-15 school year.  In a survey of principals The Administrators Alliance for Proven Policy and Legislation in Education (AAPPLE), surveyed its members recently and found that educators across the district are upset with the huge decline in school cleanliness and the poor management of the custodians by Aramark[2].   For example, principals have reported that because of Aramark’s mis-assignment of custodial staff, urine was left in toilets for weeks and parent/teacher volunteers had to sweep, mop, and throw out an enormous amount of trash, to get ready for the opening of school.

On September 13, 2014, CPS announced that Aramark would lay off 468 custodians by the end of the month. Although the layoffs have to be approved by the Board of Education, CPS gave Aramark the right to determine numbers of layoffs.  The $260 million CPS is contracted to pay Aramark is apparently not going to be used to staff sufficient numbers of school custodians. Some of that $260 million will be wasted on the purchase of Zamboni machines that cannot move from floor to floor in schools without sufficiently sized working elevators.

In June, 2014, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) e-mailed a survey to all of its members for whom an e-mail address was available.  Over 1,000 responded to the survey and the vast majority was angry about this new outsourcing and very concerned about the health and safety of their schools.  In general, concerns were raised about Aramark, but not Sodexomagic.

Teachers did not blame the individual workers. They blamed CPS for outsourcing janitorial services to Aramark. They blamed CPS and Aramark for their mismanagement and for moving custodians with knowledge of a particular building to other buildings. These problems are related to CPS’ and Aramark’s stated goal of saving money by increasing staff productivity by 50%. In other words, they expect custodians to do 1.5 times as much work for less money. Because of cutbacks, 625 custodians are now responsible for cleaning 485 school buildings serving 307,110 students.  Any potential cost-savings is not worth the health and safety of these children. 

Aramark prides itself on having “expertise in providing custodial services,” but the survey responses indicate otherwise. Comparing before and after March 1, 2014, when the custodial services became outsourced, 74% of respondents said custodial service was worse and 72% said familiar custodians were no longer in their schools. 

CTU Survey Results:

In the table below, open-ended survey responses are shown side-by-side with the promises that CPS made to the Board of Education at the February 27, 2014, board meeting:

CPS Promise[3]

Comments from teachers, June 2014 CTU survey

Commitment to APPA Level 2 standard in every building; Deep cleaning all areas regularly; A high standard for clean in every school

A parent pulled my student out of my school because the room was filthy, not cleaned for 3 weeks. We also had 2 bouts of bed bugs.


I am in the new annex of our building and it is filthy.  Teachers are sweeping their own rooms, garbage has been left in the rooms over the weekend, hallways are not being swept or washed, and bathrooms have no toilet paper, and are not being washed or cleaned.  In the girls’ bathroom the canister for the girls’ personal products are not being emptied and it smells. 

I am not sure when the last time the floors in my room were cleaned.  In 12 years I have never seen a cockroach until now.


I teach kindergarten.  The room has carpet.  Before the change, my tables were wiped down and room vacuumed daily.  After the change, most days my room was not vacuumed and table were not cleaned…Our wonderful day guy had to take up the slack for the lack of a sub for the night shift.  This went on the last month of school.


Our rooms get cleaned on average two days a week. Previously, they were cleaned every day. Floors are rarely swept and never mopped.


All of this dust and grime aggravates the respiratory systems of children and makes those with asthma and other respiratory problems seriously ill.


We were promised "hospital" cleanliness -- Maybe they meant the type of hospital in which visitors contract MRSA

Better purchasing of supplies and equipment; Aramark invests in new equipment

I see no evidence of the new staff using "new cleaning machinery".  It's still the same broom and mop.  Our old custodian got the job done efficiently and consistently mopped our floor on a regular basis, but that is not happening at all now.


Quality of garbage bags has declined significantly. They don't even fit the garbage cans and rip very easily. Toilet paper is one-ply and is unsanitary. Our anti-bacterial foam soap is being replaced by pink lotion soap which is sloppy and wasteful. Our custodial morale is at an all-time low. Schools, in all aspects, should be run by the people who know and care about them, not outsourced to money-hungry corporations!!!


The new company brings a machine that cannot be move to the other floor because most of our buildings are old and don't have elevators.

Up to $40m in additional savings; More savings that can preserve funds for the classroom

I understand that the health care for these workers under Aramark is considerably worse than it was for them previously.  If this is the case, then the Board of Ed is saving money (and I'm not sure they are) by taking it out on workers. 


Students are asked to bring in their own toilet paper soap paper towel and tissues.  If they don't, I supply.


There seems to be lack of scheduling, often told no one was available or coming later. Unique cost cutting on supplies: watered down soap, dish soap or hand sanitizer not real soap.


When teachers complained about the cleanliness of their rooms: half-swept floors, poorly mopped floors; un-vacuumed rugs; obviously filthy  reused garbage bags; dirty kick-plates on doors; dirty windows, etc. the supervisor of the custodians told our principal that the custodians only clean the floors and that anything else is $80.00 per hour.

Aramark assumes all custodial management; Regular meetings with manager to ensure satisfaction; 24/7/365 service line for all issues; Principals freed up to focus on teaching and learning; no more scheduling the work, managing staff

Everything is a work order now; if you need them to set it up you can't just ask them which causes problems with special events set-ups.


It is very frustrating as a teacher to constantly have to send students to the office to tell the administration and office staff that both the boys and girls bathrooms are out of toilet paper AND soap. The office calls the custodial staff to the office to tell them to replenish the soap and toilet paper; however, they don't do it when asked. Sometimes the bathrooms get toilet paper, but soap is rare. Teachers, like myself, have started purchasing toilet paper and soap from our own salaries just to make sure we have some for our students to use.


It takes two or three days, and my repeated follow-ups and complaints, before they cleaned my classroom


Our administration and teacher leaders have found the CPS/Aramark middle managers full of excuses and unresponsive. Repeated complaints are met with repetitive responses of "We're working on it."


Administration and building engineers have seemingly no authority over janitorial staff, coordination is poor, and even small problems are terribly disruptive - for instance, missing keys preventing janitors from stocking toilet paper in the bathrooms. The staff bathroom in my hallway has run out of toilet paper more than two dozen times since the change over.


I have called over and over to let Aramark know my classroom had not been swept/cleaned for over a week, numerous times...the garbage was rotting to the point I had to put the cans in the hallway, but all the phone calls didn't seem to make a difference.  People should know that the money we are paying to this new company is NOT getting the job done. I have had to spend a lot of my own time calling, complaining and in the  It is frustrating when I can't tell an actual person in the building that there is an issue.

Less strain on principals; Aramark trains, schedules, supervises 1,800 custodians à “Expert staffing, training and performance management”; Staff productivity increases approximately 50%

I am at a huge school and there is only one custodian responsible for the ENTIRE school...She only has time to do the very, very basic. There is a noticeable difference in the work performance of the janitorial service since February!!!


The outside company seems to have trouble finding people.  We went for so long without a second night shift person that the principal was collecting trash from cans at around 5 pm in the evening so people would not notice an obvious decline in services.


Level of cleaning declined; the custodian told me that they have more rooms to clean than before with the same amount of time


My school used to be spotless.  We had plenty of custodians that kept it really clean.  Now we are probably down to half the staff, and it's just not enough to keep a school of 1500 kids and 150 adults clean.  One of the best custodians was transferred to another school.


No substitute staff when custodians are out; rooms are left unclean.


One hand doesn't know what the other is addition, Aramark expects these custodial employees to work literally like dogs ....non-stop physical labor all day....on new EXTENDED day.... and all for very low wages.  Aramark themselves have poorly managed the entire process.  Aramark is making a mess of our custodial situation when we had no complaints about it in the first place.


Environmentally-friendly cleaning product with 30% reduction in chemicals

[The custodians] spread weed killing on the community garden burning the grapes the vines.


Cleaners being used in bathrooms are so strong smelling it burns staff/students noses.


The bathrooms smell like chlorine very strongly which with our very young children and our pregnant staff this seems unnecessary. Floors are not cleaner, just strong chemicals used that were never necessary before. 

The number of days new custodians are (or are not) cleaning classrooms, the money teachers and students are now spending on cleaning and sanitary supplies, and the time lost dealing with communication issues that have arisen with outsourcing are all measurable. As the above quotations from CPS teachers indicate, outsourcing is failing on these measures.

However, it is harder to measure the negative overall impact outsourcing has had on school communities. This impact should also be taken into account when assessing whether outsourcing is contributing to the “enhanced learning environment” that was promised.

The following quotations from CPS teachers show how janitors are not simply interchangeable parts. At these CPS schools, janitors were beloved members of their school communities. They knew the rhythms and expectations for cleaning their schools, they got to know students and staff, and in some cases they enrolled their own children in the schools they cleaned. Students and staff felt safe because they knew who to expect on site before and after school hours, and in bathrooms and in other areas where safety must be a priority. This feeling of community and safety was lost when CPS janitorial services were outsourced to Aramark, as these quotations from the CTU survey of teachers indicate:

Our pre-Aramark custodians were really members of our school's community.  They wore [school] gear, attended athletic events, and formed relationships with teachers and students.

I like our old custodial staff.  They knew the school and they knew the staff and there was a connection.  They were invested in the school and it was a source of pride to them to make the school a clean, safe, beautiful place to work and learn.  This private company has no interest in what the school looks like and how it runs.

Our students and teachers had bonded with our custodial staff and one day they just disappeared.  Horrible.

We lost the best janitor we've ever had in our school during the privatization job shifting. He was a member of our community, our students called him Tio, our staff trusted and respected him, and he worked his tail off to help out in any way he could.

Teachers identified with the janitors, as other adults who were invested in making their school community better for the students:

Having what I see to be a rotating janitorial staff lessens the pride one feels in performing a job whose results can be seen on a daily basis.  If I had to teach in a different school every week, I would not feel any connection to my colleagues, which would affect my performance as a teacher.

Our custodians had been with us since we opened our school 4 years ago. They knew the kids, and staff and just like the teachers our old custodians and engineer stayed after school - many hours without pay- to assist with school events. They were part of a highly functioning school community. Our new custodians try very hard to work up to our standards- but they are not accustomed to working how our old custodians did.  Our custodians and engineer prior to March 1 were familiar with our school routines and high expectations. They were part of making us a level one school. When you switch an entire SECTOR of a building, things cannot remain consistent and well managed. I am outraged that CPS would maintain inconsistency in high needs schools where our kids NEED consistency.

Not surprisingly, teachers see the privatization of custodial services as another decision by CPS where those most affected did not have a say, and are left to deal with the consequences:

We had a wonderful staff prior to this chaos!!  We miss [the custodian] who had been here for more years than I can count.  She added a personal touch and held an investment in our school and now we have no idea who is cleaning.  [She] would go above and beyond and took pride in her job.  She was one of us.  Our school has never been in such disarray and our teachers are unhappy. What the Board did in this privatization is another bonehead change that was not discussed with the people that it affects.  An insensitive business decision typical of CPS.  Ridiculous!!


Outsourcing is supposed to lead to more efficient services at lower cost. CPS uses the yearly budget crisis as an excuse to pay Aramark to cut janitorial staff, refuse to pay living wages, and replace humans with machines. However, outsourcing in Chicago and throughout the country usually costs more than in-house work, because contracts like Aramark’s tack on extra charges for anything above a bare minimum of work.  Outsourcing is typically used to destroy unions representing existing workers, often by hiring new workers for lower wages and laying off unionized employees.  In a school setting, it is particularly important to have continuity in the workforce, as all adults in the building are part of the school’s “family”, who collectively work to take care of the children in the building.

The outsourcing of janitorial services had the typical promotion: the service was previously mismanaged and the new company would fix the problems, provide better service, and save the district money. In his February, 2014, presentation to the Board of Education, Tim Cawley neglected to address the question of how problems of custodial management developed in the first place. Even though Bill Iacullo of Operating Engineers Local 143 did present the Board with that history, they voted for the outsourcing anyway, without addressing Iacullo’s concerns.

As Iacullo explained, in 2012, the CPS Operations Department decided to pull the engineers out of the schools and place them in the central office, to be deployed as needed.  These building engineers knew their buildings inside and out and since 1902[4] had managed the custodial workers.  When the engineers’ positions were reduced by 150 (from about 710 engineers down to 558) and moved to the CPS central office, the school principals were put in charge of managing the custodians.  These changes created chaos at the schools but could have been resolved by returning custodial supervision to the engineers.  Cawley’s statements to the Board painted a one-sided picture of the need to privatize custodial management services.

CPS will spend $260,300,000 over three years to privatize the custodial service to potentially save “up to” $40 million in that same time period (savings were not specified in the Board presentation in February).  That means that tax payers will be paying Aramark nearly $87 million per year!  Moving the Operating Engineers out of school buildings and reducing their numbers was not an “efficiency.”  The difference in their total salary between 2011 and 2013 is about $10,000,000.  Meanwhile, Aramark’s top executives are earning millions of dollars[5] overseeing shoddy facilities management and food services at CPS and around the world.

Aramark recently went public – for the third time – in an effort to pay off a substantial amount of debt. As reported by Market Watch:

Aramark has been able to take on this much debt because its revenues are a sure thing: People eat Aramark’s cooking mainly because they have to.

The company serves a million meals a day at 600 correctional facilities across North America — but this represents only 4% of its business. The rest comes from sports arenas, 12%; hospitals, 17%; school cafeterias, 26%, and workplace cafeterias, 41%.

The people eating its food are basically stuck in captive situations. Remember those 33 Chilean miners trapped under ground for 45 days in 2010? Aramark was brought in to serve them vacuum-packed meals.[6]

School districts and universities across the country have been fighting against Aramark’s outsourcing contracts for years, and some state legislatures have cancelled contracts, yet the company manages to continue to grow.  CPS cancelled a previous Operations and Management (O & M) Aramark contract in 2006 because it was doing such a poor job.  Last year, it took over the food service contract from the controversial[7] Chartwells-Thompson Hospitality.  That take-over was itself controversial: Chartwells-Thompson said it was an unfair insider deal by CPS’ head of nutrition who used to work for Aramark[8].

The Aramark contract expires in 2017, with two options to renew.  The contract stipulates that the schools should be adequately staffed and details which aspects of cleaning they are responsible for.  By July 15, 2014, Aramark was supposed to provide CPS with an inspection report conducted by an independent inspector.  After that, quarterly reports are due to show that the work meets APPA 2 Cleaning Standards, which are nationally-recognized cleaning standards for schools and universities. The Aramark contract also requires that Aramark and CPS administer a survey to principals on May 1, 2014, and each year thereafter.  It is unknown what the results of that survey are since CPS did not publish the results.


Contracting with Aramark has been controversial across the country, particularly as a result of their cost saving measures that drastically reduce the number of custodians available to keep our schools clean and our children and staff healthy.  CPS claims our children deserve a world-class education in world-class facilities but instead it has created chaos, disrupted the trust among the school family, and allowed this multi-million dollar contractor to get away with leaving our children in very unsanitary conditions. Therefore, the CTU calls on CPS to demand the rehire of all 468 custodians that have been laid off and restore them to their original assignments. In addition, the CTU agrees with the Operating Engineers that they should be put back in charge of the custodians

[1] Integrated Facilities Management Contract.  Powerpoint, February 26, 2014 CPS Board of Education meeting.  Retrieved from:

[2] “Dirty schools the norm since privatizing,” Catalyst-Chicago, 9/8/2014.  Retrieved from: and “Custodial contract causing problems at the start of the school year: Principals, teachers reporting dirty classrooms, property damage, theft, and poor communication,” WBEZ, 9/8/14.  Retrieved from:

[3] Integrated Facilities Management Contract.  Powerpoint presentation at the February 26, 2014 CPS Board of Education meeting.  Retrieved from:

[4] “Union History,” Operating Engineers Local 143.  Retrieved from:

[5] Joseph Neubauer, Chairman of the Board and former CEO: 2012 salary = $6,061,828, total compensation = $16,016,000; Eric J. Foss, President and CEO: $8,055,495; L. Frederick Sutherland, CFO, EVP: $1,598,691.  Source: In the Public Interest ( and Forbes (

[6] “How insiders will feast on Aramark’s third IPO,” Marketwatch.  September 11, 2013.  Retrieved from:

[7] “Cronyism in Chicago Public Schools' Cafeterias,” Breitbart.  March 30, 2012.  Retrieved from:

[8] “New wrinkle in CPS food fight: Losing bidder says winner got preferred treatment,” Chicago Sun-Times.  June 25, 2013.  Retrieved from:  

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