Editorials

A piece of the pie

Urban League President T. Willard Fair and Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho shaking hands on a pledge that local black contractors will get a piece of the $1.2 billion bond money for school repairs.
Urban League President T. Willard Fair and Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho shaking hands on a pledge that local black contractors will get a piece of the $1.2 billion bond money for school repairs. MIAMI HERALD

Historically, Miami-Dade’s black-owned businesses have been edged out when massive economic development construction projects have been launched in their back yard — and they have good reason to feel disenfranchised.

From the construction of Metrorail to the erecting of Marlins Park, black business participation has often been anemic.

“Economic opportunity avoids us,” Ron Frazier, CEO of BAC Funding Corp., a nonprofit that lends to minority-owned businesses, recently told the Miami Herald Editorial Board.

Now, there’s a huge new pie to divvy up — $1.2 billion in public money approved by voters in 2012 to rehabilitate aging Miami-Dade public schools. The bulk will be up for competitive bidding to companies hired to make technological upgrades to the schools, but also for plumbing and electrical improvements, painting and repairing gyms and cafeterias.

So far, $86 million has been spent on about 200 projects. As of this week, 603 companies, minority-owned and otherwise, have been vetted to bid on the projects. Wary black contractors have launched a campaign to make sure they are not shut out of the process this time. That’s a wise move.

They have genuine reasons for concern. Carvalho demanded two independent studies and an audit to identify economic inadequacies. The reports found black-owned companies were indeed often shut out when the district awarded contracts. Monday night, in Liberty City, the Urban League of Greater Miami and the local NAACP chapter invited black contractors and sub-contractors to a follow-up meeting with Miami-Dade School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.

The superintendent and staff came to address their concerns and respond to their 15 recommendations. Mr. Carvalho quickly agreed to 13 of them — another wise move, one from which Miami-Dade government, long deficient in this area, could learn.

The demands sprang from the district’s disparity studies, which generated a response study called Leveling the Playing Field and the basis for the 15 recommendations presented to Mr. Carvalho.

But Mr. Carvalho came ready with a message: “This is a new day,” he said.

Fixing those wrongs must now be the focus — and Mr. Carvalho appears to be making a heartfelt effort to make things right with the black community. He’s made concrete changes in-house, he told the crowd of about 100.

To erase the specter that the same companies get the big jobs, Mr. Carvalho said he created new procurement policies, hired a new department director and has given instructions to rebid most long-standing projects. Every school district employee who’ll have a hand in awarding contracts has undergone diversity training and been given guidelines. They risk losing their jobs if violations occur.

Following Mr. Carvalho’s reassurances, Urban League President T. Willard Fair said promises of change and inclusion are encouraging, but he plans to monitor the spending of the millions, regardless: “We’ve just begun to meet and organize,” he said.

Mr. Carvalho is to be praised for his efforts in this arena, but as Mr. Fair suggests, vigilance is the best way to ensure that what the superintendent promises become a reality.

In Broward County’s District 2 Commssion primary, the Herald recommends Charlotte Rodstrom. Go to miamihreald.com/opinion.

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