The St. Paul Public Schools want to do more business with firms owned by women and minority group members.
A report to the school board last week said that of 324 contracts awarded by the district’s facilities department — work totaling about $311 million — all but 15 went to businesses owned by white men.
Minority- and women-owned businesses secured about 5 percent of the district’s contracts between 2015 and 2017 even though a separate study indicated that such firms represented about 21 percent of all businesses available to work in St. Paul.
Efforts to bring more small businesses into the fold come as the district plans to make more than $500 million in facilities improvements over the next five years.
“They’re out there,” Jackie Turner, the district’s chief operations officer, said of the available firms. “The need is there.”
The district is late among government entities in seeking to boost access to contracts in a formal way. But it has the opportunity to team with others like the city of St. Paul.
In 2008, the city set out to make its contract work more inclusive after it learned that 7 percent of $220 million worth of contracts awarded in 2006 went to minority- and women-owned businesses. A 2017 study showed that such firms secured 16 percent of about $1.6 billion in city contracts awarded between 2011 and 2016.
Barb Lau, executive director of the Association of Women Contractors, told the school board last week that with the hundreds of millions of dollars in construction and modernization projects on tap, it is important that workers look more like the families sending their children to district schools.
The board accepted the report and agreed to work on the issue — first through policy changes that would be crafted over the coming months.
Although a specific game plan has yet to be adopted, one recommendation to the board called for opening more opportunities to all small businesses, not just those owned by women and minority group members, while also conducting a deeper “disparity study” to set a legal foundation for a program targeted to specific groups.
Of the 324 contracts awarded by the district between 2015 and 2017, 150 were for less than $100,000 — “a great opportunity” for small contractors, the report said. But none of the deals went to minority-owned businesses, and just seven went to firms owned by women, according to the report.
Turner also outlined options for potential implementation plans at costs ranging from $1.77 million to $3.9 million over three years. Officials will seek to get better clarity on those figures while the board weighs the policy changes.