Like many Chicago Public Schools, the administration at Jones College Prep High School is struggling to feed its students healthy meals while working with a new vendor selected by the Chicago School Board.
Last year, CPS decided to use Aramark as it’s sole vendor for meal services. More recently, it also chose Aramark to lead its custodial services.
Marking its 15th month with the campus’s north building renovation, and over half a year working with Aramark in multiple areas of service, Jones has to “keep asking for more help” around the school and in the lunchroom, said principal Joseph Powers at a local school council meeting last month.
“Last week we had up to 100 kids turn away and not have their lunches,” Powers said. “I’d get in there and start slinging hash with the best of them, but I’m not authorized to do that. I don’t have the training to do that. We’re basically short two people.”
The privatizing of both services has caused Jones, which is a two-building campus on State Street just south of Congress Parkway, like many other Chicago Public Schools, to experience a decrease in employees in both custodial and lunchroom services. Parents and administrators at the meeting said they have fewer lunchroom employees under the Aramark contract.
“The model that they’re using to staff our school is on a square footage basis,” Powers said. “They came back and re-measured the entire building…and I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll get additional staff. I say I’m cautious…it’s about the quality of staff…Our goal is each person has a defined area and isn’t just running around both buildings.”
CPS, serving 403,000 students in 681 schools, announced in June of 2013 that their $97 million 2013-14 contract with Aramark is “responsible for delivering 75 million meals and 70 million units of milk to all the schools in the district.”
“By the time my daughter gets out of line, she has ten minutes to eat,” said Christine Virgin, a mother of a Jones student who raised the issue at the meeting, referring to the long lines resulting from the reduction in lunchroom staff.
Jack O’Brien, a senior at Jones, said sometimes during the school week “only the first 20 or 30 people receive a full meal each period,” leaving the majority of students unsatisfied.
“When I don’t think that the lunch that provided that day was sufficient enough for me, I have to go spend my money on lunch outside of school,” O’Brien said.
And despite multiple attempts to reach out and attain other employees to make lunch run smoother, Powers said the school is in a no-win situation since the workers are outsourced and budget is not in their control.
“Would I like to have it back to the way we had it where we hired our own people?” Powers asked. “Absolutely. I think that’s what CPS will go back to.”
In an interview after the meeting, Lainey Canevaro, a long time South Loop resident with two elementary school children, said the administration’s attempts at finding a way to manage the budget is “all you can ask for at this point.”
The CPS contract with Aramark is not currently under review, and a representative from Aramark could not be reached.
Although frustrated, Canevaro, who is the most recently appointed community representative on the LSC, said she was not going to give up on the process.
“It’s not that there is a lack of will or a desire from what I have heard from this meeting, but there are overall forces where the money and resources don’t always match,” she said.