Superintendent of Broward County Public Schools, Robert W. Runcie seeks to provide the leadership needed to ensure that black businesses will share in the contracts and other benefits from the $800 million school bond, if approved by voters in November, 2014.

Broward County Public Schools have placed a referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot seeking a 30-year, $800 million bond to make critical repairs to its 300 buildings, school officials said.

The referendum is expected to create 8,800 jobs and have a $1.2 billion impact on the local economy, according to an independent study school officials commissioned.

But what is being done to ensure black business owners get a share of the economic pie?  If the referendum is approved, Broward County public schools will seek contractors in construction, technology and professional services such as legal and accounting.  The South Florida Times spoke with Broward County Public School Supt. Robert W. Runcie about how the school system plans to assist minorities in gaining contract opportunities.

“That is a huge priority for me,” Runcie said. “We are making sure companies are getting prepared for the scale of the project, obtaining sufficient bonding capacity and partnering where appropriate.”

Some of the school system’s efforts include restructuring the purchasing department, hiring a new purchasing director and creating a new office of supplier diversity and outreach, Runcie said.  School officials have also begun speaking with minority suppliers such as construction companies about building to capacity to take advantage of the major projects.

“I want to make sure the community is ready to competitively bid and deliver high quality services as opportunities emerge,” Runcie said. “On our end, we will try to make sure the size of the bids we send out are structured to create maximum opportunities for local businesses.”

Black business owners should make sure they are a part of the planning process before contract bidding begins, said Adora Obie Nweze, president of the Miami Dade branch of the NAACP and president of the Florida State Conference of the NAACP.  She encouraged black business owners to submit recommendations on how to address issues facing the black business community and to monitor the process.

“Get something in writing in case leadership changes,” Obie Nweze said.  “Black professionals should identify issues and work on the front end to address them.”

If the referendum is passed, Broward County public schools plan to make several critical repairs to roofs, air conditioning systems, windows and doors, Runcie said.  The funds will also be used to replace outdated fire alarm and video camera systems.

Computers in the schools will also be updated, Runcie said.

“More than 60 percent of computers are over five years old,” Runcie said.  “There is a 5 to 1 student to computer ratio, which is very high.”

The $800 million bond is expected to cost the average homeowner in the county about $50 a year, Runcie said.

If the referendum is approved, he expects open bidding for contracts to begin in early summer.

Runcie anticipates completing the critical repairs in seven years with $250 million of the $800 million being used for HVAC repairs.  He expects the total $800 million to be raised in five years.

A six-month independent needs assessment study determined the 300 buildings in the Broward County school system has a $3 billion need over the next five years but Runcie said it is “not a foregone conclusion” to turn to taxpayers for more help.  He expects decreases in the maintenance and energy costs due to repairs to air conditioning systems and roof leakages.

“As we continue to reduce our operating costs, it is going to allow us to have more dollars available through our millage rate,” Runcie said.  “Then we can chip away at the rest of the work that needs to be done.”

Broward County public schools still maintains $30-$35 million in its annual budgets for capital projects, Runcie said.  On Oct. 30, the school system is holding a contractor fair at its office at 7770 W. Oakland Park Blvd. to prequalify workers for current construction opportunities to perform repairs at the schools. For more information, contact Broward County public schools office of supplier diversity and outreach at (754) 321-0550.