Report: Too few minority-owned businesses win contracts for Atlanta school projects

$400,000 disparity study released Friday

Atlanta Public Schools awarded fewer contract dollars to minority and women-owned businesses than would be expected based on how many of those firms operate locally, according to a new study. 

Disparity questions related to minority vendors emerged when APS officials asked voters last year to support a one-cent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, known as SPLOST. Voters approved the sales tax in spring of 2016. 

But Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said people raised concerns about how many contracts the district awards to minority and women-owned businesses. 

In response, the district paid Keen Independent Research LLC about $400,000 to study hundreds of contracts made for SPLOST projects from 2011 to 2016. Researchers reached out to more than 5,000 businesses for the report, released Friday. 

One snippet of the study’s findings: Analysts would expect African-American owned businesses to receive 29.2 percent of construction contract dollars based on the proportion of those firms in the local marketplace, but researchers said African-American-owned firms received just 2.3 percent of those construction contract dollars. 

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The school board is scheduled to vote Monday on a resolution affirming the district’s commitment to “inclusive practices” in the bidding process. 

“APS needs to have this as part of how we think about engaging a very diverse community that is vibrant and has a lot of richness to it,” Carstarphen said. 

It is estimated that the SPLOST will produce roughly $475 million for school construction and renovation, technology purchases, and other items. 

Carstarphen said most of that money has not been committed, and the district will have time to put new policies in place to make sure more minority and women-owned businesses are involved. 

Recommendations to reverse the disparity include launching an outreach program to alert potential vendors of bid opportunities, providing training on how to do business with the district, and monitoring the results. 

Carstarphen said the district intends to use this approach not just with SPLOST-related projects but with all contracts.

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