District develops plan to improve upon finding that APS awarded lower than expected contract dollars to minority- and women-owned businesses
If there is one thing I have learned from living in Atlanta for more than three years, it is that our city is home to a vibrant and diverse community. Therefore, our procurement process (the way the district bids for goods and services) should reflect the diversity of the community, which is why it is imperative for Atlanta Public Schools (APS) to make a renewed commitment to the inclusion of minority- and women-owned enterprises.
A year ago, after an extensive engagement process around the SPLOST referendum, some concerns were raised regarding Minority/Women Owned Business Enterprises participation in construction and professional services contracts. The Atlanta Board of Education made a commitment to review these concerns to determine the best approach for reaching an understanding of the issue and an appropriate resolution to the issue.
To fulfill this commitment APS commissioned Keen Independent Research, LLC, a nationally recognized third party independent firm, to complete a disparity study in order to determine whether there is a level playing field for minority- and women-owned firms when competing for construction and professional services contracts. Additionally, we looked for an assessment of what our district might do to increase opportunities for minority- and women-owned firms, as well as other small businesses, to do business with the district.
We have the results of the study in hand, and they show that the percentage of APS contract dollars going to M/WBEs was lower than expected based on availability analysis, thus identifying that disparities exist.
The study reviewed district construction and professional services contracts entered into over a five-year period from July 2011 through June 2016. Keen Research’s study of our district identified a series of potential actions for us to consider in order to correct the disparity of procurement opportunities for minority- and women-owned firms.
Our goal is to achieve better inclusive practices. We hope to level the playing field experienced by M/WBEs looking to do business with the district. We hope that by releasing this report, we will advance the dialogue regarding inclusivity and diversity of our vendors.
The district identified four primary reasons why disparities exist. These include:
- Lack of awareness of M/WBEs for APS solicitation opportunities and how to participate in the district’s competitive solicitation process, as well as lack of opportunities for M/WBE sub-contractors to be considered by prime contractors.
- Complexity of the procurement process especially for smaller firms who have less experience with large government contracts.
- Lack of clear expectations from the district for the inclusion of M/WBEs, especially when subcontract opportunities exist.
- Lack of monitoring of M/WBE participation to recognize that disparities existed.
Given these identified reasons, the district is committed to the following next steps:
- Lack of awareness – The district will now proactively reach out to more than 1,000 M/WBEs that were identified through the study to make them aware of contracting opportunities.
- Complexity of procurement process – The district is launching additional “How to do Business with APS” training opportunities that will specifically target M/WBEs.
- Lack of clear expectations – The district is revising its solicitation process to require potential contractors to identify their inclusivity plan and to report on the awarding of subcontracts to M/WBEs.
- Lack of monitoring – The district is committed to implementing a monitoring and tracking system and will report out annually on the participation of M/WBEs.
Beyond these immediate next steps, our ongoing work in this area will also include reviewing non-competitive procurement methods.
Mr. Keen and I will share the results and recommendations from this disparity study at the next meeting of the Board of Education, which begins at 2:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 9, at the Center for Learning and Leadership, 130 Trinity Avenue. At the meeting, the Board will consider the adoption of a resolution affirming the commitment to uphold the inclusive practices in the district’s competitive solicitation process.
These findings are the catalysts for making our school district more inclusive for M/WBEs. I want to thank the community of minority- and women-owned businesses for having patience with and confidence in APS as we explored and studied this issue and as we put plans in place to address the identified disparities.