Equity and inclusion in economic opportunity is as important to breaking the cycle of poverty and racial injustice as is equity and access to educational opportunities. That is where the story began of a historic partnership between the superintendent of schools, the Miami-Dade County School Board and the Committee for Fair and Equitable Distribution of Public Contracts, led by Adora Obi Nweze, president of the NAACP-Miami Branch, T. Willard Fair, CEO of the Urban League of Greater Miami and Ron Frazier, of BAC Funding Corporation.
In 2012, Miami-Dade Public Schools (M-DCPS) asked the community to support a $1.2-billion general-obligation bond for school construction to improve all schools and bring about digital-access equity, with the promise that bond proceeds would support local economic recovery and be shared equitably.
At that time, African-American leaders felt stakeholder engagement was necessary because similar promises made by others in the past regarding the inclusion of minority-owned businesses, were not kept. We collectively acknowledged there was work to be done, and an unprecedented collaboration developed between M-DCPS and the Committee.
For its part, M-DCPS created a School Board-approved Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), and in February 2013, it commissioned MGT of America, Inc., (MGT) to conduct a long overdue disparity study to document evidence of previous discrimination in contracting; the first step necessary to restore a Minority/Women Owned Business Enterprise (M/WBE) program. Once completed, the draft study was shared with stakeholders, including the committee, to garner their input.
The disparity study confirmed historic inequities had existed for African Americans in most contracting-related categories; however, surprisingly, it found no disparity in the category of sub-contracting for African-Americans. M-DCPS and the Committee immediately questioned the validity of this finding. Rather than accepting flawed findings, we called for school district auditors to review the data, methodology and conclusions of the original disparity study.
However, to quickly improve diversity in district contracting, we acted to reinstate the School Board’s M/WBE policy for all categories where the study did find disparity had existed, promising to revisit construction sub-contracting after additional analysis.
The Committee felt the findings of MGT’s study were flawed and feared this would become a roadblock to African Americans once again getting fair access to economic opportunities. These concerns were enumerated in a report Leveling the Playing Field, which also provided recommendations for change to district practices and policies. In response, and in collaboration with the Committee, M-DCPS established action steps to address 12 recommendations contained in that report.
Over the past year we have worked closely to identify a way forward that would expedite more-equitable access to economic opportunities for minority-owned businesses. Therefore, in consultation with the Committee, Dr. Thomas Boston, of Euquant, Inc., a renowned expert in the field was retained to conduct an independent analysis of disparity related to African-American construction subcontractors.
Dr. Boston concluded that disparity did exist in the utilization of African-American subcontracting with the District. As promised, at the Sept. 9 School Board meeting, we will proffer revisions to School Board olicy necessary to expand the Minority/Women Owned Business Enterprise program to construction subcontracting. Additionally, policy designed to ensure diversity in contracting teams at all levels of the contracting process, along with legally enforceable consequences for noncompliance, will also be brought forward.
The partnership forged between the school system, the Board and the Committee, has yielded historic results. Through honest, candid dialogue old practices are being changed and new opportunities created. Providing equal footing for all members of the business community is critical to our ability to craft sustainable economic development and improve the quality of life throughout Miami-Dade. Evidence that change is taking hold can already be seen.
More than 675 firms have been certified as Small/Micro Business Enterprises, with nearly 90 percent being local M/WBEs, of which 30 percent are African-American owned. To help these businesses grow and thrive, the District issued a “prompt payment” executive directive, ensuring vendors engaged in construction-related services and activities will receive payment within 14 days. The District has even created a Bonding/Financial Assistance Program to assist small businesses with obtaining bonding necessary to qualify for GOB projects, thus opening the door to opportunity for many more small and minority contractors.
In 2014-2015, more than 9 percent of small, minority and women-owned business contract awards have gone to African-American firms; up from less than 2 percent the previous year. However, more growth is needed.
Finally, M-DCPS adopted a Commercial Anti-Discrimination, Diversity, and Inclusion policy to ensure entities it contracts with shall not discriminate in their sub-contracting processes and shall provide full and fair opportunity for the participation of small, minority and women-owned business in contracts funded by the District.
Good government exists to serve the interests of the people. M-DCPS, the Urban League, NAACP, BAC Funding Corporation and others are committed to the principles of equity and inclusiveness. By maintaining a bold commitment to inclusiveness and a willingness to work together we will continue to succeed as a community, unified by a higher purpose of serving the best interests of our children and our future.
Alberto Carvalho is the superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools. T. Willard Fair is CEO of the Urban League of Greater Miami.