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Groups Say Black-Owned Businesses Don't Have Fair Share Of Miami-Dade School Contracts

John O'Connor

The Urban League of Miami and the local NAACP want the Miami-Dade school district to stop work on a $1.2 billion bond project to renovate schools and upgrade their technology.

The groups believe black-owned businesses aren’t getting a fair chance at school construction projects.

A district review of contracts -- a legal requirement if the district wants to allocate contracts based on race or gender -- re-ignited the long-simmering dispute. The district review found black-owned businesses received a disproportionately larger share of district subcontracts.

Urban League and NAACP leaders questioned that conclusion and said the district couldn't verify their numbers. So they launched their own review and released the results at a meeting Wednesday evening.

"We don't believe what nobody tell us," said T. Willard Fair, president of the Urban League of Greater Miami. "Because past experiences tell us that if we don't stay on top of it, they have a... way of not remembering what they told us yesterday."

Miami-Dade school officials said they recognize the concerns and are trying to address them.

"I'm actually thankful for meetings like this," said Brian Williams, head of the district's Office of Economic Opportunity. "We wanted to have this kind of information and response from the community."

According to the Urban League and NAACP review, between 1986 and 2009 the district spent $14.5 billion on design, construction and procurement, and black-owned businesses got about 5 percent of that spending.

White-owned businesses received $11.3 billion in contracts, or 77.5 percent of the work. Hispanic-owned businesses received $2.2 billion in contracts, or 15.2 percent of the work. Black-owned businesses received $654 million, or 4.5 percent of the work.

About 11 percent of Miami-Dade businesses are black-owned, according to Census data. A little less than one quarter of the district's students are black.

The Urban League and NAACP say their concerns have not been addressed since the district's draft report was released in November. It's why they're asking the district to stop the $1.2 billion bond project and have the district's inspector general review contracts.

The groups also want to deal with superintendent Alberto Carvalho directly, a point made clear when district spokeswoman Daisy Gonzalez-Diego attempted to respond during the meeting.

"“We want to work with you guys," she said. "We’re here to work with you guys.”

“I’m going to say it one more time," Fair responded. "We want to deal with the superintendent.”

“’You guys’ don’t work either," added Adora Obi Nweze, president of Miami's NAACP chapter. "We’re not ‘you guys.’”

Superintendent Alberto Carvalho has asked for three outside groups to review the district's study and data. Those reports should all be finished next month and should address the groups' concerns, Williams said.

"He wants to get it right," he said. "He's taken extra steps above and beyond."

The district says black-owned businesses won about 10 percent of the first 25 contracts issued for the $1.2 billion bond and, since 2009, the district has more than doubled the number of black-owned businesses th are prequalified to do work with the district.