Filthy CPS schools prompt Kenwood HS supporters, CTU officials, to put on haz-mat suits in effort to highlight the need to clean up corruption in privatized custodial contracts at CPS...

At a news conference in front of Kenwood High School, Brandon Johnson, a staff member of the CTU organizing department, introduces a group of teachers, parents and union activists who volunteered to give the school the thorough cleaning it has not received since Mayor Rahm Emanuel privatized janitorial services. Johnson is a middle school teacher now serving as the Chicago Teachers Union political organizer. Substance photo by David R. Stone

Wearing bright yellow head-to-toe haz-mat (hazardous materials) suits, members of the Clean Kenwood Coalition, including officials of the Chicago Teachers Union, highlighted “unhealthy” conditions in Chicago Public Schools. They said the protective gear would let them to do the cleaning that Aramark, the private company that holds the janitorial contract at Kenwood High School and hundreds of other schools, has failed to do well for several years. Their action was part of a news conference that drew news crews from Chicago’s major TV stations to the South Side school on Friday, April 13, 2018.

“Aramark gets filthy rich… our schools get filthy,” declared Jackson Potter, a CPS teacher who is now serving as staff coordinator for the Chicago Teachers Union. In response to recent widespread media coverage of inspections that found unsanitary conditions at more than 100 schools covered by CPS’s contract with Aramark, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been quoted in news reports as promising the hiring of some 200 additional janitors. Yet this is woefully inadequate, Potter said, because approximately 1,000 school custodians have lost their jobs since Aramark took over the cleaning services.

Michael Shea, a teacher at Kenwood for the past 16 years, described several years of efforts by Kenwood administrators, faculty, staff, parents and students to get the problems at the school resolved. Administrators bought mops and cleaning supplies, staff comes in to clean on weekends, people have written hundreds of emails to Aramark and to the Chicago Board of Education – and did succeed in getting the Board to schedule a “blitz cleaning,” he said, “but it’s still not enough.” Rodents have been seen in the library and other parts of the building, ceiling tiles have fallen on teachers’ desks, some bathroom facilities have stopped working, water from leaky pipes drips down walls, and the heating/cooling system is barely functioning, Shea said.

Shea said Kenwood is considered one of the city’s better public schools, and all of them need resources that the mayor is giving away to corporations.

Gordon Mayer, parent of two Kenwood students, told how the Clean Kenwood Coalition campaign was largely led by students, who took their message to the Board of Education and spoke at two of the Board’s public meetings.

Brandon Johnson, a middle school teacher who is now the CTU’s political organizer, said the issue goes beyond the mayor and Chicago. He asked for support for a bill pending in Springfield, the state capitol, that would take control of the schools out of the hands of the mayor and place it with an elected, representative school board. Johnson also said that a long-term fix involves undoing statewide legislation that limits the Chicago Teachers Union’s ability to represent custodians and negotiate on a wide range of working conditions.

Michael Brunson, the teacher elected to serve as CTU’s recording secretary, added, “Better working conditions are better learning conditions.”

Only three of the speakers at the news conference were wearing haz-mat suits. They said they had a fourth protective suit, for the mayor to use if he wanted to join them in seeing first-hand the results of his decision to award contracts to politically connected corporations.


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