Education

Auditor backs Miami-Dade schools minority contracting report

An independent auditor’s initial review of a Miami-Dade County School Board study on its contracting policies hasn’t cleared up controversy around the report.

On the one hand, the auditor found the methodology behind the report “statistically valid and sound.”

But at least one of the report’s findings is “odd,” said Thomas Boston, an expert in small and minority-owned business issues. He was hired by the district to analyze its draft disparity study.

The district has already committed to digging further into the numbers after leaders in the African American community questioned the disparity report’s accuracy.

The disparity study is supposed to determine in a factual way whether minority- and women-owned businesses get a fair share of school board contracts. The study is legally required in order to establish policies that favor businesses based on the owner’s race or gender.

Black community members are pushing for such polices as the school district spends more than $1 billion in bond money on technology upgrades and capital improvements.

The Urban League of Greater Miami and the local chapter of the NAACP have criticized the district’s disparity study as flawed, and have taken particular issue with the study’s finding of no discrimination when it comes to the number of minority-owned firms used as subcontractors.

At a school board workshop on Wednesday, Boston said the finding of no disparity at the subcontracting level is “odd.”

“Has this issue been looked at more broadly?” he asked. In order to do business with the district, a firm has to go through an approval process. He wondered if the pool of eligible black-owned firms is too small.

Superintendent Alberto Carvalho agreed, saying that “intuitively” the result at the subcontracting level “seems strange.” He has called for two audits of the disparity study — one done in-house and another by Boston.

In the wake of skepticism and scrutiny of the issue, Carvalho has called for a third review, also by Boston. That review will specifically examine the subcontracting issue.

In September, the district came out with it’s own audit, which found errors in some of the data used for the disparity study. MGT of America, the contractor doing the disparity study, incorporated the district’s findings into report, but said the results remained unchanged.

Board member Raquel Regalado said she wants any additional reviews to also take into account whether the district isn’t using minority-owned firms because they have been disqualified due to poor performance on past contracts.

“I think it’s unfair to look back at that and say it’s discrimination, without looking at performance,” Regalado said.

Boston stressed he didn’t analyze the quality of the data used in the disparity study, or the study’s conclusions.

“I’ve indicated a lot of areas where I think either an additional approach or a broad approach would provide greater insight to the school board and strengthen the study,” he said.

He said the company hired to to the study, MGT of America, has agreed to incorporate his recommendations to that effect.

Carvalho has said the district plans on presenting a final disparity report to the school board by December. Any new policies to encourage minority- and women-owned businesses would hopefully be in place by January, he said.

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