Arundel schools met goal on buying from minority companies

But system spent less with them in fiscal 2003 than it did in fiscal 2002

January 08, 2004|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

The Anne Arundel County school system exceeded its goal of buying 14 percent of its supplies and services last year from businesses owned by women or racial minorities, but spent less with such businesses than in previous years, according to a report presented to the school board yesterday.

The system paid minority businesses 16.4 percent of the $82.7 million it spent on purchases ranging from milk to school construction in fiscal 2003. In 2002, 21.7 percent of spending went to minority contractors and vendors.

The purchasing office's report was released days before a task force established by Superintendent Eric J. Smith is scheduled to hold a public hearing on how to increase participation from minority businesses.

Purchasing supervisor Deborah Groat said in an interview that the drop-off in minority contracting from 2002 occurred partly because the school system spent more last year in areas such as textbooks, in which minority-owned businesses are not competitive.

The system also received fewer low bids from minority businesses on construction jobs and cut back a computer replacement contract with an Asian-American business to balance its budget, she said.

But Groat told the board yesterday that school business awarded to African-American businesses, though small, increased twofold from 2002 to 2003.

Despite that increase, the Rev. Walter Middlebrooks, president of the Black Chamber of Commerce of Anne Arundel County, said he was disappointed by the persistently small share of contracts awarded to African-American businesses.

"I think this report is a mixed bag," Middlebrooks said.

Contracts awarded to minority businesses have increased significantly since the mid-1990s, when the Anne Arundel school system began trying to increase minority participation. In 1997, minority businesses received about 4 percent of dollars spent by the purchasing office, Groat said.

"We have a healthy environment and participation from all groups," Groat said before the meeting.

Asian-American companies won 8.3 percent of the total dollars spent, more than half of the money paid to minority contractors. Businesses owned by women received 4.5 percent, or about a fourth; African-American businesses received 2.6 percent; and Hispanic businesses won 1 percent.

Board member Eugene Peterson, who also considered the amount of contracts with black businesses inadequate, said reforms are needed.

"I'm sure [school officials] are doing their darndest to have more [minority] participation," Peterson said, "but the numbers, in my mind, should improve, and hopefully the task force recommendations will give us a how-to improve them."

The task force plans to hold a public hearing Saturday on draft recommendations that require school board approval. The recommendations include:

Adopting goals for minority business participation that reflect the county's racial composition.

Employing an outside company to monitor the system's use of minority contractors. Currently, the purchasing office does outreach to minority businesses and audits its own performance.

Limiting awards to majority-owned contractors with a poor track record of using minority subcontractors.

Finding easier ways for small businesses to become certified as minority businesses with the school system.

In other business yesterday, the board approved the appointment of Jonathan Brice, a Harvard University doctoral candidate and Smith's intern for the past six months, as the director of program planning beginning next month. The position has been vacant since summer.

The Baltimore native will oversee data collection and analysis and manage the public information and technology departments. His annual salary will be $99,156.

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