School system targets minorities

By Trina Trice

The owners of PRAD Group, Inc., a minority-owned design and construction firm, hope recent efforts made by the Clayton County school system will get them more of a chance at winning a contract on future projects.

The school system has implemented a new method that will encourage more minority- and female-owned businesses to bid on projects with the district n at least that's what school officials are hoping.

"We have expertise over all areas of construction," said Chuck Maclin, construction manager for PRAD. "We would love to do business with Clayton County Schools. We'll keep bidding on construction until we can get something from them. We're willing to negotiate."

Vendors planning on doing business with the school system must register on the Purchasing Department Web page.

The school system has 931 minority- and female-owned businesses on its roster of 20,700 vendors.

Of the $103 million spent on contracted services, only $1.6 million went to minority- and female-owned businesses.

The move to require online registration was a necessary to get the word out on bids to all kinds of business owners, said Brian Miller, director of Facility Auxiliary Services, Purchasing and Risk Management.

"We don't think we've had the exposure," Miller said. "We certainly can't let everyone know when we have a bid out."

Since becoming chairwoman of the Clayton County Board of Education, Nedra Ware has consistently expressed her concern for the lack of minority business presence in construction and other bids.

Most recently Ware questioned why there weren't any minority companies considered for the system's life insurance when bids were being taken earlier this year.

Other critics have been the Rev. Jesse Jackson and representatives from his Rainbow PUSH Coalition. At a controversial press conference earlier this month, Jackson stood outside the schools' administrative complex and said he had read a report that both the county and the school system have neglected minority- and female-owned businesses when bidding out construction and other contracts.

The local chapter of Rainbow PUSH is compiling a report that investigates how the county's track record with minority businesses.

The increase in Clayton County's minority population n more than 60 percent is black n has spurred some to demand that government bodies reflect the demographic change by employing and doing business with more minorities.

School administrators agree a change should be made.

"Before we were just trying to get the word out, but that wasn't enough," said Bill Horton, acting deputy superintendent of Clayton County Schools. "We must get more minority bids, now. But I don't mean rigging bids."

Through the Minority Female Business Enterprise workshops that began last year, Miller and his department are networking with other organizations and school systems.

"We're trying to provide an outreach environment (with the workshops)," Miller said. "We're benchmarking to find out what larger (groups) are doing to utilize minority businesses. Atlanta City Public Schools has a set aside program, we can't do that, but we can create an environment for (minority and female businesses)."

Future workshops are scheduled for this fall.

Registered vendors receive an e-mail newsletter of all bids and quotations that are available at any given time.

The way it works, Miller points out, is that all registered vendors will get the same information. For instance, a furniture vendor will get information about construction bids. The "one size fits all" method will hopefully encourage vendors to pass the information on to family members or acquaintances that could bid on the project, Miller said.