CHICAGO, April 13, 2018: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel claims he’s addressing a crisis in school cleanliness. Teachers, parents and neighborhood residents say his ‘solutions’ fall far short of needs – and took their concerns public again Friday morning at Kenwood High School, with some donning hazmat suits and offering to inspect the school for health hazards.
Chicago teachers and staff had the right to bargain to improve conditions in public schools until 1995, when the state legislature handed Chicago’s mayor total control over the school system and eliminated the CTU’s ability to bargain on non-economic issues like school cleanliness, which has been exposed in recent weeks to be critically deficient.
Emanuel announced on Thursday he’d increase full-time custodial staff by 100 beginning next fall and allow union janitors at least some voice in concerns about school conditions, workloads, lack of cleaning supplies and other issues. The CTU argues that school janitors are not the problem – and that those new positions represent only a fraction of what’s needed to tackle systemic facilities issues in public schools.
“The mayor would never send his own children to learn at a school plagued by these conditions,” said CTU member and CPS parent Brandon Johnson, who MC’d an 8AM press conference today at the south side’s Kenwood High School to raise concerns about the issue. “Even in this latest deal, Emanuel has shown he doesn’t really care about addressing the scope of this crisis. We do – and we demand the right to step up to advocate for the safety of our students and the educational staff that serve them.”
Kenwood teacher Michael Shea – a 17-year veteran at the school – discussed the school’s frustrating struggle to address chronic facilities issues, noting that the school’s problems include an antiquated heating and cooling system that can leave temperatures topping 90 degrees in one classroom while, simultaneously, temperatures in another can be as low as 60 degrees.
“We have administrators buying mops and cleaning supplies for custodians, and it’s still not enough,” said Shea, who talked about a volunteer group that parents and staff have organized to try to keep abreast of facilities issues. “They come in on weekends and clean, and it’s still not enough. We’ve gone to the Board twice, and it’s still not enough. It’s sad.”
Since Emanuel began privatizing CPS janitorial and maintenance services in 2012, CPS has agreed to fork over more than three-quarters of a billion dollars to Aramark and Sodexo for facilities maintenance. The companies have slashed janitorial staff by roughly a thousand workers, with those remaining raising concerns over punishing workloads and shortages in cleaning supplies.
“Our demands are simple,” says CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey. “We want an end to fat cat multi-million dollar deals with private corporations that shortchange our schools. We want back our right to bargain on behalf of our students over conditions like huge class sizes and deplorable conditions in our classrooms. Finally, we want an end to Emanuel’s failed control over our public schools – including the corruption, mismanagement and neglect that his control has produced.”
The CTU is supporting a bill in Springfield to restore bargaining rights on school conditions. HB 4776, which was passed Tuesday by the Illinois House Labor & Commerce Committee, would strike Section 4.5 of the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act, restoring the CTU’s ability to bargain – and potentially strike – over non-monetary issues like school cleanliness, a right afforded to teachers in every school district but Chicago. The bill is one of several currently in play in Springfield, including a CTU-supported bill that would give Chicago residents what every other school district in the state has: the right to an elected, representative school board, instead of one hand-picked – and controlled – by the mayor.