bill-diggs_web.jpgBusiness owner Donald James has been certified to do business with Miami-Dade County Public Schools for 10 years and in all that time he never had the opportunity to do business with the school system.

“Every other county entity sends out an e-mail or other announcement to make companies aware that bids are open in the area of service they provide,” James, in business since 1965, said. “But I have never received anything.”

James, whose Integrity Janitorial Corp. holds certification through agencies such as Hub Zone, the Small Business Administration, Disadvantaged Business Enterprise and Miami-Dade County, is not alone in being snubbed by M-DCPS.

Of the $15 billion in procurement and construction dollars the district spent over the past 24 years, only 4.5 percent has gone to black-owned businesses, according to Bill Perry, chairman of the Economic Development Committee for the Miami-Dade Branch of the NAACP.

That figure, said Bill Diggs, president and CEO of the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce, “is jaded in the sense that about three percent of that is construction-based.”

“So when you talk about procurement — the buying of paper, pens, pencils and all the other things that take place in order for a small business to grow and be significant – less than two percent of that actual number goes toward procurement,” Diggs said.

According to Perry of the NAACP, about 15.16 percent of the school district dollars are spent with Hispanic-owned businesses, less than one percent with women-owned businesses, but 80 percent with non-minority businesses.

School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho did not attend the conference and did not return calls from South Florida Times seeking comment.

The district issued a statement after the news conference acknowledging it is “well aware of the need for reform” and pledged to “find solutions in 23 days.”

“Ensuring equality is one part of the equation, but education will also be an important element as we work to let local business owners large and small know of the availability of opportunities that will be created,” the M-DCPS statement said.

The statement said the “inequities in business practices” were uncovered by its own Minority/Women Business Enterprise office, but did not say why it has taken so long for the figures to come to light.

The district said it has been meeting with “concerned business people” as well as the chamber and the NAACP to address the matter.

Diggs said in an interview that the numbers were uncovered after reviewing a report he received from the M-DCPS’s auditing department.

“After I looked at the documents, I wondered if they really knew what they sent,” he said.

Over the last two years, Diggs said, the chamber has had several meetings with Carvalho.

“Some time in October we said to him that we wanted to make sure that we would be able to do something to fix this problem. At that time we were only talking about taking this issue public,” he said.

Diggs said that some vendors who are chamber members reported that it takes up to nine months to become certified with M-DPS.

“Ordinarily, through Miami-Dade County, it takes anywhere from 60 to 90 days. So the process itself is broken. We have attempted to work with them to fix the process and it still doesn’t [work],” Diggs said.

For the minority community to thrive, Diggs said, “you’ve got to give these businesses the opportunity to want to become certified in a reasonable amount of time before the next year’s certification comes around.”

“So far,” he said, “the problem has been pervasive and has not been solved.”

Cynthia Roby may be reached at