Education

Audit finds errors in review of Miami-Dade Schools’ disparity report on contracts

There were errors in the data used in a study to determine whether contracts are given out fairly at the Miami-Dade County school district, echoing concerns raised by black community leaders.

That’s according to an audit of the district’s disparity report, which will be presented to School Board members at their regular meeting Tuesday.

Among the problems discovered by the district’s internal auditor:

▪  The race and gender of at least seven contractors were incorrectly listed.

▪  About $13 million in subcontracts reviewed were understated.

▪  At least three firms did not have a valid license and therefore shouldn’t have done business with the district.

Black community leaders recently commissioned their own study that found errors in the district’s disparity report. Ron Frazier, CEO of BAC Funding Corp., a nonprofit that lends to minority-owned businesses, was involved in the counter-study along with the Urban League of Greater Miami and the local NAACP chapter.

He said the audit “validates” some of their concerns.

“This is about fair contracting processes as it relates to the School Board,” Frazier said.

The findings of the disparity study are important because they will determine whether the district can legally enact procurement policies that favor businesses owned by women or minorities. Black community leaders have been calling for such policies as the district rolls out a $1.2 billion bond program for capital improvements and technology upgrades.

Despite the data flaws, the company commissioned for the disparity study said its conclusions are unchanged. Among those conclusions: that there is no disparity in how the district subcontracts minority-owned businesses.

Without a finding of disparity at the subcontracting level, there is a concern among black leaders that the School Board will not enact formal policies to guarantee equal access in that arena.

However, district officials said it still may be possible to do so — though a legal analysis is ongoing. Board attorney Walter Harvey said it’s “very clear” that the disparity study justifies policies to favor minorities.

“The question is: will it apply to subcontractors? And that is obviously still being reviewed and vetted. But what we’re looking at is discrimination in the private sector and the number of contracts awarded,” Harvey said.

A second audit of the disparity study — this one by an independent economist — still is underway. Additionally, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho has promised to conduct a third review specifically of the findings regarding subcontracting.

He also recently committed to a series of recommendations made in Urban League report, including a contract compliance system and diversity training for district employees.

He has stressed the disparity report is still a draft, and now is the time for the kind review and community input pouring in.

“This is so important that we ought to get it right. Simply getting it done is not option,” Carvalho recently said at a community meeting.

Follow @Cveiga on Twitter.

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