The South Carolina National Action Network Monday held a press conference to announce its objections to Charleston County School District’s proposed contract award to Cumming Construction Management to oversee the district’s upcoming five-year capital improvement project. Despite the organization’s concerns, school district officials are set to again award the contract to Cumming.
S.C. National Action Network Director Elder James Johnson said the organization wants the district to require the company to increase minority business participation in its construction and renovation projects. Johnson said NAN is acting on information it has received from Charleston County School Board member Kevin Hollinshead who joined the board in November and has petitioned the board to act on the matter.
In a January 13 letter to board members Hollinshead said, “As you know, it has been a matter of some discussion regarding whether or not to use one or two firms to manage the 2017-2022 Capital Program. The original bid documents, published before my election to the Board, certainly appeared to contemplate the selection of two firms; however, for reasons that are unclear to me, the documents were changed to make it less certain that two firms would be selected.
“After studying the issue, I have learned that Cumming, and its predecessor company, have been engaged in some capacity as a Program Manager for the last three phases of the capital programs undertaken by the District. I am also aware that during that time the District has spent tremendous sums of money to construct new and to improve existing facilities in the District. Money that has been raised from our constituents through bond issues supported by tax revenue.
“During the recent solicitation for bids to serve as Program Manager, the District received proposals from two eminently qualified firms. For whatever reason, the staff elected to recommend only Cumming to provide the services. I do not think that this is in the best interest of the District or the constituents. We tried the approach of having two firms during phases one and two of the capital program and went away from that approach to only one firm in phase three.
“I feel it is time that we return to the original approach and give a second firm the chance to handle half of the Program Management responsibilities so that we may better analyze the cost-benefit of the process. My experience tells me that the “competition” between the two Program Managers to hold a line on costs, particularly change orders, will be of benefit to the District and will help us realize more bang for our buck. I don’t see any real downside to trying it this way for the five-year period of this Capital Program. If it does not achieve the type of financial benefit that we hope, a change in approach can always be made at the end of this program.”
Hollinshead’s and NAN’s concerns were foreshadowed in 2014 by Charleston Sen. Marlon Kimpson. In a letter to CCSD Chief financial Officer Michael Bobby, Kimpson said he didn’t agree with the district’s conclusion that the school district has had ‘success’ with its minority business spending for construction and procurement since 2010.
The district spent about $123 million for construction since a one-cent sales tax program was initiated in 2010. Less than six percent of the amount has been spent with Black contractors. Small and women owned businesses have gotten greater shares of the district’s construction expenditures, 12 percent and 11 percent respectively. The percentage of awards granted to African American businesses outside construction contracts also are dismal, he said.
In fiscal year 2013 the district’s total general operating fund expenditures were $203 million. Of that total less than 3.5 percent was awarded to racial minority (Black) firms, he said. Without a disparity study, Kimpson said he couldn’t determine what the appropriate minority spending goal should be.
Hollinshead argues that district procurement policy isn’t reflected in practice. The two are inconsistent, he said, and that’s not fair to taxpayers. Charleston County School Board is expected to vote on the contract award to Cummins in two weeks, Hollinshead said.