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Lessons in Diversity: Mixed Reviews Meet Hazelwood School District Plan for Suppliers

The Hazelwood School District announced what it considers a new chapter in its Supplier Diversity Program and got pointed questions from board members and residents.

In December the  accused the (HSD) of from its Supplier Diversity Program, and therefore from various construction and supplier contracts.

The organization called for changes and HSD quickly responded to the NAACP's allegations in a . 

That letter promised HSD would announce new measures for its Supplier Diversity Program at the first meeting of 2012.

A new chapter

At a January meeting, the district outlined its plans. Kevin Cross, HSD director of supplier diversity, called the approach "boots-on-the-ground, people on the job doing the work."

"After five successful years of promoting contracts and business with minority and women-owned businesses, the district is now setting a goal for workforce diversity," Cross said. "One thing to note is that the program has never been static. It's ever-evolving."

Cross explained the district will now require that any contractor awarded a contract of $250,000 must meet certain guidelines: 25 percent of the staff must be minorities and five percent must be women.

"We are going to use technology to help monitor the workforce diversity program," Cross said. "The software is available to the contractors that will include monitoring of trade, hours worked, rate of pay, race and also a picture."

Later in the meeting HSD board president Cheryl Latham asked what percentage of construction projects amount to more than $250,000.

Dwight Lindhorst, the district's assistant superintendent for finance and facilities, responded.

"I would say out of operating expenditures it would be a small percentage, probably one or two contracts," he said. "When we're talking about bond issue construction, almost all of those exceed that amount."

An investment in diversity

Cross said the technology and software will have a cost for contractors who want to do business with HSD. 

"There will be a specification that is written into all bids and contracts going forward that is a workforce diversity specification that will outline the responsibilities of the contractors in making sure the software is current and up-to-date," Cross said. "Both the general contractor's employees, as well as subcontractors have to be scanned in, (identified) and the software has to be working on a daily basis."

HSD will begin making compliance visits to work sites, and receive monthly computerized reports to ensure compliance on the contracts that are $250,000 or higher, Cross said.

Questions from the board

Lindhorst and Tom Mangongna, the district's construction project manager, joined Cross in answering questions from HSD board members. 

Charles Woods asked how the district compares to supplier diversity programs at other area school districts.

"Some of those districts are building a building each year," Woods said.

Cross said HSD is the only area district with a defined program that includes active inclusion goals.

"To my knowledge we are the only one," he said.

Brenda Youngblood wondered why the district could not set measures to ensure contractors are using minorities and women in apprenticeship programs.

"I'm going to approach this from a different standpoint," she said. "I'm thinking about in the future with students.

"If we're establishing some goals, do you foresee in the future perhaps awarding contracts or giving proposals to companies that have engaged minorities and women in giving apprenticeships, in terms of that being a favorable outcome for them?"

Mangongna responded by advocating a go-slow approach.

"At this point I would not be able to project where we would be on apprentices two or three years from now," he said. "I think what we need to do for the first year is concentrate on meeting our goals of 25/5 (as an inclusion percentage), take a look and see if there are any refinements we can do, and decide if we should go any further." 

Youngblood said she would like to see more students earning jobs on HSD projects upon graduation, paving the way for careers in construction."

"I'm thinking about the students that are coming out of our schools," she said. "Many of them are not gong to college and are entering the workforce."

Strong public opinion

The public comment session revealed concerns about the new apporach to supplier diversity.

One resident in particular said he hadn't planned to speak but felt the need to express his opinion as a district taxpayer.

"What I care about as a taxpayer and as a resident is that good quality construction is being done," said Tim Lee. "I think this district has gone well above and beyond what they have to do, and I want you to continue to look at when you are leasing contracts, to get people that are going to give us good quality construction and good quality service."

Ted Fletcher, president of the Fletcher Company, a minority subcontractor on that has worked on many HSD projects, stood and spoke in favor of the district's current program.

"We have benefited from the Hazelwood School District's minority particpation program," he said. "Your diversity program is exceptional. Does it need tweeking? Yes. Could it be improved? Yes."

Tony Weaver, a resident who has run for a school board position in the past and is an advocate for changes to the program, also spoke up.

"It appeared to me today that the board was patting itself on the back," Weaver said. "We're now just talking about boots-on-the-ground in 2012, which I think is embarrassing."

"When you have student body that is over 60 percent minority but you are still today talking about how to get minority suppliers and contractors" Weaver said. "When you have minority companies that live in Hazelwood and whose kids attend Hazelwood (schools), but it's difficult for them to get a contract in Hazelwood, I don't think the board is doing enough."

David Stephens, director of operations for the St. Louis Minority Supplier Development Council, also commented on the district's progress.

"When we talk about boots-on-the-ground workforce, I'd like to see 100 percent, but it's not gonna happen, at least not in the next few years," he said. "Getting to 20 or 25 percent of your workforce is a rather significant accomplishment."

"Ya'll are doing a good job," Stephens said. "Are you doing enough? No. Would I like to see you do more? Of course. I'm in the business of promoting minority businesses, but you are doing a good job and nobody can say you are not."

Roger Clegg February 08, 2012 at 07:50 PM
Rather than setting quotas (or "goals" -- they amount to the same thing), just hire the best qualified individuals, regardless of skin color, what country their ancestors came from, or gender. Anything else is divisive and unfair; it necessarily lowers the quality of the workforce if they best qualified people aren't hired; and this is illegal (in violation of federal civil rights statutes and the U.S. Constitution).
RM February 10, 2012 at 11:21 PM
I agree with Roger. As a taxpayer, I'm willing to pay a good day's pay for a good day's work. We want a quality job for a decent price and I personally could care less if that job is done by all minority workers or no minority workers. If minority businesses cannot compete with other businesses then they need to up their game, we don't need to provide "protective" status. All businesses should be allowed to bid equally and be awarded work based on their merit. Why do we keep getting side-tracked on these off-goals issues brought on by "special interest" lobbyists, the very same problem we constantly deal with in Washington. In my opinion, the goal of the school board (in this instance) is to spend the taxpayers money appropriately to provide sound structures and repair for our schools, with the bulk of their concern going to the proper education of our children. Let the businesses (minority or otherwise) hire their employees and provide quality jobs and workmanship while complying with the numerous anti-discrimination hiring laws already on the books, not really a school board issue. Let's stay on point to providing excellence in education!!!

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