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Schools told to hire minority builders

The Hillsborough County School Board's plan to help minority businesses share in the millions of dollars worth of school construction projects is not working, according to black activist Bob Gilder. At Gilder's request, the School Board has directed School Superintendent Walter Sickles and his staff to meet with representatives of the Suncoast Minority Contractors Association to come up with a new and possibly more aggressive plan.

The school system will spend more than $518-million in construction during the next five years, and minorities want to share in that, Gilder told the board Tuesday night.

Suncoast representatives have contended, and Gilder reiterated Tuesday, that less than 1 percent of the dollars spent on school construction goes to black contractors and subcontractors.

Since the school system in June initiated an encouragement plan, which requires general contractors to send certified letters to minority businesses when looking for bids, that has not changed, Gilder and Suncoast representatives said.

"You're letting $6.2-million tonight (in construction projects,)" Gilder said. "You're going to let some more money tonight, and I doubt that any of it is going to blacks or women. And that's wrong."

Dr. Larry Wagers, director of operations for the school system, said part of the problem is that black contractors have been unresponsive to the encouragement plan.

Wagers said the school system sent 101 certified letters to minority subcontractors regarding the $6.2-million elementary school construction project.

"We got three responses. All three were higher than other bids they (contractors) received," he said.

Sickles agreed to make a recommendation to the School Board within a month. He and School Board Attorney Crosby Few also were directed to study the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last year invalidating an affirmative action plan in Richmond, Va. That plan was rejected on the basis that the plan was not supported by evidence of specific acts of discrimination against minorities.

Derrick Miles, Suncoast representative and president of Derrick Electric, said he was encouraged by the board's action.

"I want to see if they are going to stand behind what they say they are going to do," he said. "All I can do at this point is wait and see."

Also Tuesday, the School Board voted to accept in concept a plan to recruit more blacks into the school system as teachers and administrators. The plan calls for spending more than $80,000 a year, including $27,000 to hire a full-time minority recruiter, on the task. The board will consider its financial commitment to the plan as the budget for next year is developed.