Businesses owned by minorities and women have contracting and purchasing opportunities with corporate and governmental agencies throughout the Mid-South, including Shelby County Schools (SCS).
Recently, the school district has come under scrutiny about a lack of data distinguishing African-American business spend from other minority business spend.
Currently, SCS data reflects total spend with women of any race and total spend with any minority entrepreneur.
Individuals and groups in the community and several SCS board members have expressed concern about the data since the majority of SCS students are African Americans and the Memphis population is more than 63 percent African American.
In a city where the African-American poverty rate is 27.6 percent, spending with African-American businesses, particularly during a recession, is crucial for reducing high rates of economic despair.
On Tuesday, during the SCS Procurement Committee virtual meeting, board members Shante Avant, Miska Clay-Bibbs and Joyce Dorse Coleman stressed the importance of tracking and monitoring minority-owned spending and identifying African-American-owned spend data.
“We need a sense of urgency around this,” said Clay-Bibbs.
“We need the local component, breaking down the numbers.”
The SCS Department of Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises (MWBE), which falls under Leon Pattman, Chief of Internal Audit, has been tracking data manually. Business owners “self-identify” their minority category.
Pattman says SCS is in the process of purchasing new software to track and monitor contractor and sub-contractor spending.
He added that the district is working diligently to increase the number of participants in the SCS MWBE Certified Vendors Listing, which now sits at 140.
“We’re keenly aware of the need to improve this number substantially.”
The new monitoring system will be rolled out to the community in the next few months and will include a community engagement plan focused on African-American and Hispanic vendors.
To spread the word about becoming a Certified Minority Vendor and listed with SCS, Pattman says the MWBE Program team is forming stronger ties with relevant partners.
Those partners include:
- City of Memphis Office of Diversity and Compliance
- Shelby County MWBE Programs
- Mid-South Minority Business Continuum
- Memphis International Airport Business Diversity Development Program
SCS Procurement Committee members also emphasized the need for minority spend data by department, as well as level of spend.
Pattman, who acknowledged that there have been no “aspirational goals” for the SCS MWBE Program in two years, assured board members that such goals will be defined during the next Procurement Committee meeting (TBD).
“We’re also creating a database for Certified Minority Vendors vs. Minority Contractors.”
“With a majority black student population, it’s best to have aggregated data when many people can fall into this (minority) status,” says SCS Board Commissioner Coleman.
“But how many are black businesses and how many are Hispanic businesses?”
The new tracking software, funded in the fiscal year 2021 budget, will automate vendor tracking, spend re- porting and facilitate goal setting.
During the meeting, Pattman’s slide presentation revealed that, between July 1, 2019 and April 30, 2020, SCS spent a total of $25,386,959.01 or 14.6 percent of the MWBE budget with certified MWBEs.
Of that total amount, $7,292,720.48 or 4.04 percent was spent with certified women entrepreneurs.
At the close of the meeting, Pattman committed to addressing concerns regarding SCS MWBE spend data.
“We’ll take a ‘deeper dive’ into the numbers.”
(To learn more about the Shelby County Schools Minority, Women-Owned Small Business Program, or how to become a Certified Minority Vendor, visit: http://www.scsk12.org//mwbe/.)
(To see current SCS MWBE Program objectives and updates, visit: https://go.boarddocs.com/tn/scsk12/Board.nsf/files/BQEUFC753223/$file/MWBE%20Presentation_06_09_2020%20rev.pdf.)