by Ronda Watson Barber
What is going on in Columbus City Schools and the purchasing department? The district proclaims its support for initiatives that are inclusive of the diversity within our communities while enhancing student success. Per its website, Columbus City School actively seeks LEDEs to participate in all contracting and procurement opportunities. Those are nice statements and sentiments. Unfortunately, the state’s largest public school district is FAILING its Local Economically Disadvantage Enterprises and Black vendors.
I made a public records request. There are only 254 active LEDE vendors. There are 293 inactive LEDE vendors. Traditionally, vendors are placed in inactive status because they have failed to file their general liability insurance and W-9 form. For years, I have advocated removing barriers to becoming a CCS vendor. Requiring general liability insurance to become a vendor is a significant barrier for many small businesses. General liability insurance is not required to conduct business in the Buckeye state. It is almost like asking a prospective car buyer to have insurance before visiting a car lot. You need insurance to look around—sort of a crazy policy.
The history behind this barrier was unveiled during a sworn deposition provided by the former purchasing director. He filed a federal discrimination lawsuit because the district didn’t renew his contract after he resigned. He mainly sued Black people in his lawsuit. Two Black vocal vendors, the Columbus Branch of the NAACP, the elected school board, and two Black staff members. Ironically, he didn’t include the white superintendent who didn’t put his resignation request up for public comment and before the elected board to vote on.
The former disgraced purchasing director included little ole me in the lawsuit because, in his mind, I influence the elected school board with my editorials and advocacy. The district settled with him by paying $70,000. The final defense cost to the district was $100,000 in taxpayer funds. The insurance company paid the $70,000 settlement. CCS pays for the insurance policy. All CCS staff and administrators signed confidentiality agreements. I did not! The story of how one man was allowed put barriers up for Black people to conduct business with CCS needs to be told. It also needs to be revealed that the elected school board and administrative staff continue to perpetuate roadblocks for Black businesses.
The former purchasing director admitted that he instituted the department policy to collect general liability insurance and w-9 information to keep “undesirables” out. The Black people listening to the deposition audibly grasped. It sounded like a white man was actively working to prevent Black vendors from conducting business with CCS by implementing a restrictive policy. Columbus City Schools is a predominately Black school district. The last LEDE utilization report indicates that white men benefit from the disadvantaged business program.
My dad’s best friend since 2nd grade told me that someone needs to wake up every morning and try to foster an environment for Black businesses to compete successfully. I took my Uncle Mike’s advice. I work everyday to help Black-owned businesses.
I have made another public records request. I have also forwarded my requests to the interim superintendent and elected school board members.
- Please provide the demographics for the 547 LEDE vendors, both active and inactive. The LEDE application does ask vendors to identify their race.
- Why doesn’t the district track the race of all vendors? The district keeps demographics for students, staff, and administration, so why not vendors?
- Where are the tax and general liability insurance information of vendors stored? Is it safe? This process appears to be labor-intensive and a security risk to store this information for ALL vendors interested in doing business with CCS, regardless of whether they have an active contract or purchase order.
- Do you know if the district notifies vendors to forward the requested information yearly?
- What happens if a vendor does not return a w-9 and general liability insurance? Are they notified they are placed on inactive status?
- Has the district reviewed other Central Ohio organizations on their registration processes to become a vendor? What were the results?
- Please provide the LEDE utilization number for the last school year.
I will continue to say that any barrier or vestige of immoral practices from the former purchasing director should be removed from the Columbus City Schools Purchasing Department. It can not continue to be business as usual. I am encouraging Black-owned businesses to advocate. Jennifer Adair, Tina Pierce, Michael Cole, and Carol Beckerle are incumbents running for re-election. The newly elected board may select the next superintendent. Question and challenge them on the practices of the purchasing department. Ask why they require information to register as a vendor that no other Central Ohio organization does. Ask who the undesirables are that purchasing policies should protect the district from. Ask why white men benefit from the LEDE program more than Black vendors.
Our votes and tax dollars have power!
“I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.” James Baldwin.
Just my thoughts…rwb