Black contractors shortchanged out of $1.2B pot
$21 million of $536 million spent goes to urban communities, latest data shows
The 2012 public school General Obligation Bond that was pushed heavily in Black Miami-Dade neighborhoods has yielded three new campuses, and dozens of overhauled campuses. But of roughly $536 million spent or otherwise allocated to companies, only $21 million has gone to Black prime contractors.
That amounts to 4.6 percent of the money allocated, a figure that Black business leaders and contractors say is abysmal.
A search of data released to The Miami Times by the Miami-Dade Public Schools System reveals that six Black companies are certified as prime contractors. The lion’s share of the $21 million has gone to D. Stephenson Construction, which is owned by NFL standout Dwight Stephenson. His company earned more than $18 million since 2013, the first year monies from the general obligation bond program were expended, according to school system records.
The rest of the money has been divvied up by five other companies, all with offices in Miami: Pioneer Construction, Asset Builders, D2 Construction, Daybreak Design Build Group and IGWT (In God We Trust) Construction.
Reached Tuesday, Stephenson said D. Stephenson Construction has been paid to date $16.8 million. He said of that amount, he still must pay subcontractors.
“We do not keep that amount,” Stephenson said. “The majority of that is paid to subcontractors.” He said he has been awarded contracts with MDCPS over the last 10 years, and has been a prime contractor for the last five years.
The MDCPS information represents the expenditures paid out thus far from the $1.2 billion GO bond, also known as GOB. The document is more than 1,000 pages of codes with vendor names, dollar amounts and payment dates. However, the information does not denote which contractors or vendors are Black. It also is not clear if the data provided has been verified by the district’s office of audit management and budget.
Ron Frazier, chair of the district’s Small Business Enterprise committee, said he wasn’t impressed by the figures, or the information provided by the district. He questioned whether MDCPS is capturing data that it promised to do regarding minority contracting and hiring goals as stated after the bond passed in 2012. The school board’s adopted policy requires district officials to monitor and report whether Black businesses are participating and whether employment goals are being met.
“With all of the GOB [General Obligation Bond] guiding principles, reporting and accountability tools and commitment for transparency, there has yet to be a public disclosure report on GOB expenditures,” Frazier said during a contentious April 5 school board meeting. “There is now a growing public mistrust in the board, the superintendent and the district staff at this point to be transparent and be accountable with the implementation of the GOB.”
Frazier demanded Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and other administrators produce specific information about the bond and expenditures to the community. He also asked the school board members to convene a special meeting solely to discuss bond matters.
Frazier also requested the board give a score card assessment on the performance of the superintendent and district staff on the bond program, a forensic audit of expenditures since 2013, bond achievements and a score card on contractor compliance.
Both Frazier and Darryl Holsendolph, a member of ICARE, told the school board members to stop work on bond projects until a complete accounting is done.
Holsendolph also said the district has not done neither oversight or compliance with the program.
“We’ve been saying this for years. It’s poor and Black people who are being left out,” Holsendolph said. “We want the district to stop any spending of that bond until we get an accounting of the dollars that have been spent already. Stop this train now to get some accountability. Get some compliance.”
The data sent to the Times provides pages of names of contractors and other vendors who received payments from 2013 through early 2017. The information does not detail gender, race or ethnicity. Critics say that was a key component that Carvalho said would be available to get the Black community support in 2012.
District officials said they were working to bring online a B2G computer program system that would provide that type of information instantly. Facilities chief Jaime Torrens said that would be sometime in May.
Under school board policy, “the district’s [Office of Economic Opportunity] OEO shall monitor the implementation of this policy and the progress of these programs. On an annual basis, the OEO shall report to the superintendent and board on the progress of achieving the goals and objectives established for awards to certified SMBE and M/WBE firms, reporting both dollars awarded and expended. In addition, the OEO shall annually report on the progress in achieving the stated program objectives, including, but not limited to, enhancing competition, establishing and building new business capacity, and removing barriers to and eliminating disparities in the utilization of available minority business enterprises and women business enterprises on board contracts.”
District 1 School Board member Steve Gallon III expressed doubts that this was happening.
“We have spent $500 million and do not have the structure up and running,” Gallon said. “We have to give an account to the individuals in the community who elected us.
Very great policy. But if it’s not implemented with fidelity it only represents good intentions.”
In an earlier interview, Torrens said of the $1.2 billion, about $448 million has been spent, with another $86 million awarded under contract. “That leaves almost $666 million unallocated to date,” Torrens said.
He said that in addition to the six Black prime contractors, the district does regular work with two Black architects: Nyarko, which is owned by Charles Nyarko and Design2Form, owned by Zamar Brown.
Those additions marked an improvement, he said. “Prior to the bond there were no African American architects working for the district,” Torrens said. “Now we have two that have done repeated work.”
Elsie Hamler, president of the Contractors Resource Center, said the 4.6 percent figure is troubling, given the Black population size in Miami-Dade County is at about 22 percent.
“Look at our population. We’re getting four percent of all the money. I’m disappointed. We can do much better,” Hamler said. “I think the promises were made based on getting the bond passed. We should be doing a lot better than we’re doing.”
Hammer said that in the beginning of the program the district made a strong push to target Black participation but it didn’t pan out. She said her company vied for a program management role that would have overseen the compliance function. Those duties were assigned in-house with the school district.
“It makes you question how serious the commitment was for Black participation,” she said.