Drake Elementary, at 2710 S. Dearborn, failed pest and bathroom categories during a 2017 "blitz" inspection. Credit: CPS

As I was reading the latest Sun-Times exposé on filthy Chicago Public Schools, my mind flashed back to a conversation I had in 2014 with Lenny, an old pal who’s worked as a CPS janitor for years.

“You wouldn’t believe this bullshit,” he told me. “They took away our mops.”

It was part of one of Mayor Rahm’s privatization schemes. In this case, CPS let a bunch of janitors go and farmed out janitorial contracts to a couple of well-connected firms.

“They took away our mops and mop buckets and gave us this thing they call microfiber pads,” Lenny told me. “It’s a pad at the end of stick. They gave us a training session and everything on how to use it.”

The point was to get fewer janitors to do more work in less time so there’s more money for the people who own the the firms that got the contract. In this case, they figured to save money by doing away with rinsing the floor.

“With that microfiber thing, we don’t have to do the rinsing,” Lenny explained. “So instead of going over the floor twice, we only do it once. We’re supposed to do something else with the time we’re saving from not having to rinse the floor.”

How’s it working?

“Man, that microfiber thing ain’t shit! It doesn’t get the floors clean like an old-fashioned mop. You ask any janitor.”

Anyway, I was thinking of those mopless janitors as I’ve read the latest horror stories about debris, dead bugs, filth, rodents, and rat droppings in the hallways and classrooms.

Or as Sun-Times education reporter Lauren FitzPatrick put it: “CPS handed control over the bulk of its custodians—about 1,700 full-time positions—to two private contractors. Officials said at the time the $340 million move would result in cleaner schools.”

Obviously, it didn’t work—as privatization deals rarely do. When it comes to choosing between cleanliness or profits, something has to lose—in this case, the schools.

This isn’t the first time the papers have filled with tales of rat droppings in CPS. Similar exposés were written back in 2015, months after Mayor Rahm ushered in the new age of no rinsing.

Clearly, not much has changed—except for Rahm. Back then he was simply outraged over the filthy schools. Now he’s “beyond outraged”, according to FitzPatrick’s latest report. If this keeps up, he’s gonna be really, really beyond outraged.

I must point out that the janitorial privatization deal was unanimously approved by the mayor’s handpicked school board after a breathless PowerPoint presentation by a former CPS bureaucrat named Tim Cawley that was one step short of rapture.

Man, Cawley got so carried away during his presentation, I half expected him to start speaking in tongues.

Among the benefits he promised . . .

  • “Cleaner schools”

  • “Less work for principals”

  • “Up to $40 million in savings”

  • “A world-class organization for our world-class students”

  • “An erection that lasts more than four hours”

(Sorry. I know I sorta used that joke four years ago. But, c’mon, man, it’s a good one.)

Here’s what we do. Tear up the privatization deal—getting rid of the middlemen making profits off public service—and go back to the days when CPS employed its own janitors who were accountable to the principals.

It may cost a little more, ’cause we’ll be paying the janitors more money—but better them than the mayor’s privatization cronies.

Besides, Rahm, you can pay for the janitors with some of the billions you and Governor Rauner are desperately trying to give to Amazon.

Better the janitors—who actually live in Chicago—than Jeff Bezos, that’s for sure.