Renovations at Black schools, but no Black workers present
Two board members raise concerns about bond policy
A random visit to Norland Elementary School by a school board member on Monday has renewed criticisms about disparity in hiring Black people on construction projects and among vendors of Miami-Dade County Public Schools District.
School Board Member Steve Gallon III stopped by the predominantly Black school, located at 19340 NW Eighth Ct., during a routine, unannounced visit. But the stop was a surprise for him.
After meeting with the principal and faculty, Gallon stopped by a construction area at the school. Then he noticed there were no Black workers on the crew. The construction company is owned by Dwight Stephenson, a former NFL player and hailed as a role model for minority contractors in South Florida.
“I counted the workers. There was not one single Black person,” Gallon said. He inquired with the site manager, who is Black. “I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I didn’t see any Blacks on site, which is a concern.”
Gallon, the District 1 board member who regularly uses social media, posted photos Monday showing an all-Hispanic, all-male crew to Facebook. Those pictures set off criticisms from Black men and women who have long complained about the district’s lack of diversity in hiring.
Days earlier, District 2 School Board Member Dr. Dorothy Bendross Mindingall visited a construction crew at Dorsey Skills Center in Liberty City and found another all-Hispanic work crew.
Mindingall dropped by Dorsey, 7100 NW 17th Ave., after getting a call from activist Leroy Jones.
“I went over to Dorsey. I counted and spoke with the site manager. He spoke very little English. When I saw none of the workers were African American, that made me very unhappy,” she said. “We have policies and procedures and we talk abut the percentages of the workers. We’ve got programs at Dorsey where we train students.
What are we doing when they’re done training? Why aren’t they put on the jobs? That’s the purpose.”
Mindingall brought her concern to the March 15 regular school board meeting. She asked a staffer about the lack of Black workers at the Dorsey site.
“They told me that they had done the outreach in the area to find workers,” Mindingall recalled. “That’s when I told her we were going on a field trip [to Dorsey]. “They’re there. They’re begging and pleading for work. “
News of the two school board members’ findings made countless numbers of Black residents unhappy. Whispers in the community around Dorsey were frequent about the lack of Black laborers. The concerns have started to show up in discussions at regular school board meetings about policies that were supposed to be put in place to increase Black employment and equity for vendors seeking contracts.
To address charges of discrimination in procurement and business practices, the school district implemented a stipulation that requires that contractors at a bond construction site hire at least 20 percent of the people who live within a five-mile radius of the project.
Schools spokeswoman Daisy Gonzalez-Diego said the district is committed to appropriate monitoring and vigilance to ensure equity, diversity and inclusion in contracting.
“We continue to gather and assess local workforce utilization rates as projects progress. However, final conclusions on utilization rates cannot be reached until the work has been completed since the goals are aggregate for the duration of the project,” she wrote via email. “Nevertheless, we are putting contractors on notice to ensure that they not only meet the technical requirements of the contract, but also adhere to the spirit of inclusion. If they are not meeting these goals, we will assist them in identifying a more diverse labor pool.”
Gonzalez-Diego said that for the Norland Elementary School project, Stephenson has contracted five African-American sub-contractors/sub-consultants.
“It is important to note that work force utilization goals are based on zip codes and proximity to the project,” she wrote.
However, Mindingall said racial composition at Dorsey didn’t match the district policy goals.
“The people are not out there ,according to what the policy should say,” Mindingall said. “I know they can find people within those [areas] to do what’s needed at those construction sites.”
Businessman and activist Darryl Holsendolph said the board members’ observations did not surprise him. He and other Black advocates of public school education in inner city areas say the compositions of work crews is just one of the problems they have with the Miami-Dade school district.
They say the district is ignoring the goals they promised to follow in hiring people from the community after the 2012 passage of a $1.2 billion bond to improve public schools. That bond received significant support from Black voters. The district has spent about $500 million of that amount.
“We’ve been saying this for years. There’s no accountability to holding the contractors to the goals that were set. Prime contractors and sub contractors are supposed to honor the goals,” said Holsendolph, who monitors procurement issues for the Miami-Dade NAACP. “When we hear the superintendent talk about the accountability, he and his office is not monitoring the commitments he made to the Black community.
Gallon’s photos on Facebook showed something far different. He posted more than 20 photos showing Hispanic men working the construction site. The workers are adding a new wing to the school, which is funded through the bond.
The revelation angered William “D.C.” Clark, the president of ICARE. “This has been going on for a while. There’s lot of turmoil down [at the school district main office]. There’s a lot of cronyism and things that don’t meet the eye.”
Clark said the news that the Norland crew were on the Dwight Stephenson project caught him off guard.
“That was a big surprise. I know of him. It’s very discouraging. Dwight ’s name is well respected. He would be the last one I would have thought who would have no Blacks on his crew. He’s a stalwart in the community,” Clark said. “For him not to comply with having 20 percent of the workforce with Blacks is very surprising. I thought more of him than that.”
Stephenson, when reached for comment, said he didn’t know much about the issue.
“I don’t know much about it. I’m not sure what you’re talking about. I’m in a meeting and I’ll get back to you,” Stephenson said.