Mayor Emanuel and the Chicago Board of Education hoped to pinch a few million pennies by privatizing school cleaning services.
  • Al Podgorski / Sun-Times Media
  • Mayor Emanuel and the Chicago Board of Education hoped to pinch a few million pennies by privatizing school cleaning services.

In his three years in office, Mayor Emanuel has tried such curious experiments in education as school libraries without librarians and school bathrooms without toilet paper.

Now he’s got a new one: school janitors without mops!

It’s part of his latest whiz-bang privatization scheme that’s left principals, teachers, and students from one end of town to the other fuming about everything from mouse droppings in the hallways to overflowing garbage cans.

In March, the Chicago Board of Education cut a deal with Aramark, one of the largest food-service and facilities management companies in the world.

We, the taxpayers, gave Aramark a three-year, $260 million contract to run janitorial services in most of our schools.

And in exchange, they, the corporate behemoth, gave us one of the greatest sales pitches ever.

I mean, they had Emanuel’s appointees at CPS swooning. Here’s just a few of the accolades school officials offered about the Aramark deal at a PowerPoint presentation just before it was inked in March.

“Cleaner schools . . . “

“Less work for principals . . . “

“Up to $40 million in savings . . . “

“A world-class organization for our world-class students . . . “

“If you have an erection that lasts more than four hours, get medical help right away . . . “

Oh, wait that’s for a different product. Sorry about that.

Basically, CPS officials breathlessly proclaimed that Aramark had devised a new and ingenious way to get fewer people to do more work. Meaning the company could get rid of janitors, keeping more of the profits for itself and saving us that $40 million.

Well, as we’ve learned by now, it hasn’t quite worked out as promised.

Far from having less work, principals find themselves constantly on the phone to the central office, begging and pleading to send someone over to empty the trash.

To be fair, Aramark kept its word about slimming down cleaning operations, as almost 500 janitors will be getting pink slips. If they haven’t got them already.

As for those new time-saving innovations? To get a sense of how they’re working, I checked in with a janitor that I’ll call Lenny.

“They took away our mops,” he told me.


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

Here’s how the mayor expects this will save money.

In the old-fashioned wash-and-rinse way of mopping a floor, janitors fill buckets with water and soap. Then they swab the floor with the soapy water. Then they empty the bucket, fill it with fresh water, and rinse away the soap.

That’s why they call it wash and rinse! I’m telling you, folks—I cover the waterfront.

“With that microfiber thing, we don’t have to do the rinsing,” Lenny explains. “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.”

So I got a hold of George, a janitor at a different school.

“Forget that micro thing,” he said. “It doesn’t work. Everyone’s just using the mop anyway.”

By the way, George is one of the janitors who got his pink slip. So now he’ll have to find a new way to support his family on the northwest side.

In the meantime, we, the taxpayers, will pay him unemployment benefits. I guess we can take it out of the $40 million in savings that Mayor Emanuel’s aides promised.

In summation, a janitor’s family loses its paycheck. Schools are dirtier. Principals are wasting their time on the phone. And a multibillion dollar corporation based in Philadelphia gets $260 million from us.

Just call it the latest joy of privatization in the age of Mayor Rahm.