St. Paul Public Schools officials say they aren’t awarding enough work to minority- and women-owned businesses.
A recent three-year study found all but 15 of 324 contracts with the district’s facilities department went to businesses owned by white men. Women and minorities got just 5 percent of contracts and 7 percent of contracting dollars.
A separate study for the city of St. Paul and other local governments found that given the availability of minority- and women-owned businesses in the city, those contractors should be getting 21 percent of the work.
“They’re out there,” said Jackie Turner, the district’s chief operations officer. “The need is there. We believe it will help our community, and the time is now for us to do something.”
Board member Steve Marchese and Cedrick Baker, who briefly was a board member and now is chief of staff, first raised concerns in 2016 about who was getting the school district’s business.
The district assembled an advisory council last year and commissioned a study of the $311 million in facilities contracts it awarded between 2015 and 2017. It found minority-owned businesses got $21.5 million of work while women-owned companies got just $1.4 million.
The district expects to award more than $500 million in construction and modernization work over the next five years.
“You guys are doing so much business … and everybody should have the opportunity,” Ramona Wilson, diversity manager with Knutson Construction, told the board.
The school board Tuesday was presented with options for further studying the issue and putting new practices in place. The plans come with an estimated three-year cost of $1.8 million to $3.9 million.
Ideas include hiring staff to do outreach and monitoring; joining a local collaborative that certifies businesses; breaking up large contracts into smaller pieces; and directly negotiating contracts under $175,000 instead of soliciting bids.
School board members Tuesday expressed general support for the effort and are expected to make policy changes in the coming months.
The district also will need another, more comprehensive disparities study to establish a legal justification for creating a program that favors underutilized businesses.
Last year, a disparities study was completed for the city and eight other governmental entities; the school district did not participate. All but one of those agencies already had a system in place to promote the hiring of underutilized contractors, yet those efforts didn’t seem to be working well.
At 16 percent, the city of St. Paul gave the greatest share of its business to those contractors between 2011 and 2016.
Hennepin County came in at 11 percent; the Minnesota Department of Transportation at 7 percent; and the Metropolitan Council at 6 percent.