Cleveland Schools Tell Building Program Contractors to Diversify Hiring

Thomas Ott, Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 25, 2009

The Cleveland school district is bluntly telling construction companies that it wants more minorities, women and city residents working on a massive building and renovation program.

But if the companies fail to comply, officials say, the district can’t force them.

When the district launched the $1 billion-plus program seven years ago, it called for minority workers and city residents to each handle a fifth of the labor and for women to get 5 percent. According to payroll reports, the first two groups have landed 17 percent apiece and women’s share is 3 percent.

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But school board Chairman Robert Heard said the district, by law, can’t enforce what are nothing more than goals.

“Unfortunately, we can’t mandate to contractors who they hire,” he said. “We can suggest, we can encourage.”

The meeting was for invited contractors culled from school and city lists, Heard said. He said officials did not notify the community because they wanted to coax action without a debate.

Grace Waite Jones, an activist from Cleveland’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood, learned of the gathering and came to give the district an earful. She said she had traveled past a couple of school construction sites and didn’t spot a single black worker.

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Schools chief Eugene Sanders is trying to deal with contractors in “less drastic fashion,” Heard said. The board chairman said he is open to negotiating “project labor agreements” that would require unions to supply the workers necessary to meet the goals.

School officials have hired consultants to monitor contractors’ hiring and help the companies increase the numbers of residents, minorities and women they employ. The Project Group, a Cleveland company, will make frequent surprise visits to work sites under a one-year, $200,000 contract that took effect June 1.

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hiring

Robert Heard, school board chairman.

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