Ousted over dirty schools complaints, CPS official was paid $29,000 to leave

By Lauren FitzPatrick
When the Chicago Public Schools and a private contractor couldn’t provide enough custodians earlier this school year, security guards were called on to take out the garbage from the lunchroom at Eberhart Elementary School on the Southwest Side. After a Sun-Times report on filthy conditions there, Clarence Carson was forced out as CPS’s facilities chief. | Provided

After the November ouster of Chicago Public Schools facilities chief Clarence Carson, Pedro Martinez, CPS’s chief executive officer, said the forced resignation would send a “message about holding ourselves accountable” following new complaints about filthy school buildings.

And then Martinez signed off on paying Carson just under $29,000 to go, records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show.

That’s according to the “Severance and General Release Agreement” signed by CPS’ top lawyer Nov. 9 that authorized paying Carson $28,958.85 — the equivalent of 60 days of his $175,100 yearly salary, plus health and dental benefits for his family through Jan. 31.

Clarence Carson, who got nearly $29,000 to leave his post as the Chicago Public Schools’ facilities chief in what, for CPS, was an unusual severance deal.

Carson was forced out Nov. 4, a week after the Sun-Times reported that one Southwest Side elementary school was so filthy that teachers, the principal and other administrators had been grabbing mops and brooms themselves, and parents were offering to lend a hand because CPS and a private contractor hadn’t even ensured that the bathrooms had soap or toilet paper.

“There is a mutual desire of the parties to move in a new direction,” read the seven-page document detailing Carson’s severance, which says the payout was “to ensure a smooth transition for the Facilities Department and to resolve any and all issues related to Carson’s employment with the Board.”

Such severance deals are unusual at CPS. None has been offered to other high-profile school system officials who’ve been ousted in recent years, among them Carson’s predecessors in the top facilities post.

Carson’s deal specifies that he would not be barred from being rehired to work for CPS in the future, and there’s no “Do Not Hire” designation in his personnel file.

Carson, 40, declined to comment.

Asked about his payout, a CPS spokeswoman initially said officials “have not had any time to address your questions” and then didn’t respond to follow-up requests for comment.

CPS CEO Pedro Martinez.

A day after the Sun-Times reported Carson was out, Martinez told reporters: “My commitment to our board, to the mayor, to the parents and the community [is] we’re gonna hold ourselves accountable. And I will make changes as needed. And just know that’s gonna be the way we’re gonna work.”

As kids returned to classrooms full-time this school year after a year in which CPS largely relied on at-home, online learning because of the coronavirus pandemic, the school system has struggled with keeping schools clean amid a shift to a new private contractor to oversee facilities management. Jones Lang LaSalle, a Chicago real estate management company that was given the three-year, $125.5 million-a-year contract, hadn’t previously overseen K-12 schools.

Despite years of complaints about cleanliness, officials also expanded the role of Aramark, another private contractor, to manage custodians at all CPS buildings after promising to dump Aramark and SodexoMagic. Those companies had overseen cleaning at Chicago’s schools since 2014.

CPS officials have blamed a national labor shortage amid the pandemic for keeping the contractors from being able to hire enough custodians to fill vacancies to be able to fully staff the city’s schools and to find fill-ins when custodians are out sick.

Carson departed after the Sun-Times reported in October on problems at Eberhart Elementary School on the Southwest Side. Beside the filthy bathrooms with no soap or toilet paper, the hallways hadn’t been mopped for weeks, no one was taking out the garbage from the lunchroom that’s shared by most of the school’s 1,100 students, and kindergartners came in one morning to a classroom littered with animal droppings.

CPS sent in reinforcements after that. But officials still won’t say how many schools had extra weekend crews brought in to keep up with cleaning.

Carson was hired in 2018 to deal with problems that sprung up after CPS privatized school facilities work and oversight. He was CPS’s fifth facilities chief since 2014.

His predecessor also resigned under pressure following Sun-Times reports in 2018 on dirty schools were.

And her predecessor had been forced out in 2017 amid questions about whether he lived in Chicago, as CPS rules require, or in the suburbs, where his wife and family lived.

Carson had been making $170,000 a year until he got a pay raise in August, boosting his salary to $175,100, part of an across-the-board series of increases given to administrators in schools and at CPS’ central office.

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