NAACP: Show me the bond money

NAACP: Show me the bond money
Gallon to question board about spending

The Miami-Dade NAACP is demanding to know what the School Board has done with the modernization bond money. The group wants Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho to show at the upcoming meeting how the $1.2 billion approved by voters has been spent.

The branch executive committee discussed the topic at its regular meeting Monday night. Some members said they would take their concerns to the school board at its April 5 meeting.

And joining them will be School Board member Steve Gallon III, who said he has questions about how the administration is implementing school policy. He said he’s getting earfuls of complaints from constituents, especially about whether the district is transparent in releasing information.

“Many feel that recent observations are not isolated cases. Many perceive that the commitments made have not been reflected in the economic opportunities realized by Blacks, women and minorities,” Gallon said.

Shirley Bailey Johnson, president of the Miami-Dade NAACP Branch, said she has concerns about how the money is being spent.

“The NAACP is asking these questions. We’re not going to stop asking until we get to the bottom of it,” said Johnson, a retired educator. “We want to find out where the money is going, and if they have done with it what they said they would do for our children.”

Carvalho is out of town and could not be reached for comment.

The issue, a sore subject in the Black community, resurrected after criticisms levied by Gallon and District 2 Board Member Dr. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall about the lack of Black workers at school construction sites in Black neighborhoods. Critics say that Carvalho promised that Black laborers would be hired when he campaigned in Black neighborhoods for the bond.

Miami-Dade residents in 2012 voted for a $1.2 billion General Obligation Bond to improve public schools and use minority vendors for goods and services. That bond received significant support from Black voters.

District officials say about $500 million has been spent on construction and related services. Yet, Black activists are skeptical about whether the community is getting its fair share.

After the complaints first aired, Carvalho released a memo instructing the district to hire four additional compliance managers and one data input specialist. Four of the new employees would be hired from the bond program, and the fifth will be a district employee whose responsibilities will focus on noncompliance related to goods and services.

In addition, the compliance unit will make regular, unannounced site visits to validate monthly reports submitted by contractors.

“Clearly, there remains concern about the level of implementation and monitoring of the board policy with respect to inclusion,” Gallon said. “The subsequent action of the superintendent after recent school site construction visits and the raising of related concerns evidences this. His review of the current program’s implantation and adding of additional staff for compliance monitoring shows notes gaps in the process, which need to be addressed and improved.”

Darryl Holsendolph, an ICARE member, said he wanted the district to stop spending bond money until the district releases an assessment of the $500 million already spent. He wants a report that shows how many Blacks have been employed, and how many contracts have gone to Black companies for construction, goods and services.

“All agreements should have had measures where they were doing the work. It’s just not happening,” Holsendolph said.

The Miami Times last week requested comprehensive information about school bond expenditures, recipients and pending allocations. The information was not available as of press time.

Gallon said he has questions about the district’s monitoring of the policy. He said he wants to see the numbers, too.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools conducted a disparity study after it got approval for the $1.2 billion bond in 2012. The problem for Miami-Dade schools is that the disparity study was flawed and it took dogged challenges to the study by community leaders to affect change. Miami-Dade agreed to make changes to more level the contracting playing field but a definitive percentage of how many contracts should go to Black, minority and women-owned business was not decided on.

To be fair, Miami-Dade implemented new policies that make it easier for Black businesses to do business with the system.

“The board is to be commended for the adoption of a policy for inclusion in light of the disparity study, which showed that Blacks and minority groups were not getting their fair share. Though the policy is strong and provides clarity, expectations…the rubber meets the road in its implementation,” Gallon said.

A district employee said pulling the information takes time.

A contractor who has benefitted from the program is construction contractor Dwight Stephenson. His company currently is in charge of sites at Norland Elementary and American and Southridge high schools. His company also has done work at Melrose and Oak Grove elementary schools.

Gallon’s visit to Norland Elementary started the latest dustup. Stephenson said his company hires Black subcontractors, and insists that all subcontractors employ Black workers.

“Today the paint and electrical contractors are Black. We believe we are hiring Black people,” Stephenson said. More importantly, he said, the project manager and assistant project manager at the Norland site are both Black.

“The assistant project manager decides who gets the work. He’s been with us four or five years. Now we’re trying to get him up to where he can do work on $2 million contracts,” Stephenson said.