Chicago Public Schools plans to end Aramark cleaning contract

A white and red large delivery truck is parked outside with the word "Aramark" on the side with blue sky in the background.
Chicago Public Schools says it will not renew a multi-million dollar cleaning contract with Aramark. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images) (Gado / Getty Images)

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Chicago Public Schools said Monday it is not planning to renew a multi-million dollar deal with Aramark for the management of school janitors and cleaning services after a decade.

The move comes after years of concerns and complaints over school cleanliness from staff, parents, and students.

The school board’s latest agreement with the Philadelphia-based company is set to end June 30, 2024. According to a school board committee agenda posted Monday, the district is asking board members to increase the current contract, which started Aug. 2021, from $369 million to $391 million “due to unforeseen expenditures associated with overtime, custodial supplies and custodial equipment.”

A district spokesperson confirmed Monday the district is not renewing the contract with Aramark and the school board will vote on seven new contracts at its Feb. 22 meeting.

Charles Mayfield, chief operating officer at CPS, said the district is looking forward to more direct oversight of janitorial services and supplies and allowing principals to have more say on school cleaniness. Mayfield said the district will contract with seven vendors for custodial services. He said he doesn’t anticipate any job losses with this change.

CPS employs more than 1,000 custodians, according to staffing records updated at the end of December.

“We had an opportunity to renew at Aramark and we opted not to,” said Mayfield. “There were some challenges there, but they’ve also been great partners over a number of years. Sometimes change happens.”

A spokesperson for Aramark wrote in a statement that the company was disappointed to not be selected to continue providing facility services for CPS.

“We are proud of the efforts of our dedicated employees and are committed to ensuring a smooth transition to the school district’s new provider,” said Chris Collom, Aramark’s vice president of corporate communications.

Chicago Public Schools first contracted with Aramark in 2014. Budget officials at the time promised that outsourcing the management of school cleaning would save money and ease the burden on school principals.

But the deal backfired in the first school year when staff returned from summer break to dirty classrooms and, in some buildings, fewer custodians. Then-CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett admitted the shift to privatized management of custodians was not going smoothly and the board reversed nearly 500 planned layoffs. By the spring of 2015, the contract with Aramark had gone millions of dollars over budget, WBEZ reported.

The union representing school janitors called the move a victory for its members. SEIU Local 73 — the union that also represents school employees such as special education classroom assistants, bus aides, and crossing guards — has been meeting with the district’s facilities department for almost three years to raise concerns about Aramark’s management of equipment and supplies for custodial staff.

Stacia Scott Kennedy, executive vice president of SEIU, said she is thrilled the contract is over.

“I feel hopeful that this change in management will improve the outcomes of cleanliness,” said Scott Kennedy. “I also feel hopeful that it’ll improve the working conditions of our members who have suffered under private contract with management for the last 10 years.”

SEIU Local 73 has been in contract negotiations with Chicago Public Schools since its contract ended June 30, 2023. One of the union’s economic proposals was to ask the district to get rid of the contract with Aramark. Scott Kennedy said they will keep the proposal as negotiations continue.

Becky Vevea is the bureau chief for Chalkbeat Chicago. Contact Becky at bvevea@chalkbeat.org.

Samantha Smylie is the state education reporter for Chalkbeat Chicago covering school districts across the state, legislation, special education and the state board of education. Contact Samantha at ssmylie@chalkbeat.org.

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