Committee begins monitoring minority participation in building new MPS headquarters

By Mel Reeves

The Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) held the first meeting of its Minority, Women and Diverse Business Participation Oversight Committee on Tuesday, December 7, at 807 Broadway NE.

The committee, which has the responsibility of overseeing the minority and women labor participation and the Minority Business Enterprise (WMBE) participation in the construction of the new Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) headquarters, was presented with minority and women labor and WMBE hiring goals by MPS and Mortenson Construction. They also heard a presentation by community member and businessman/journalist Don Allen.

The committee was organized and its members selected by James Burroughs, director of the MPS Office of Equity and Diversity. The impetus for the creation of the oversight committee came about after a public meeting organized by the Minneapolis Public Schools and Mortenson Construction last spring revealed that, while the minority participation and hiring goals were laudable, there was no way to assure the community that they would be met.

Burroughs shared with the committee MPS’s current hiring goals for the project. The goals for minority- and women-owned businesses are 15 percent for men and 10 percent for women. Burroughs indicated that they would like to expand these goals to 17 percent for men and 13 percent for women.

The minority workforce goals are 15 percent unskilled and eight percent skilled, and 4.5 percent women. The district hopes to broaden those goals to a combined 25 percent for minorities — with no distinction between skilled and unskilled — and five percent for women.

According to a report by Lynn Littlejohn of Mortenson Construction, the current participation of Women and Minority Business Enterprises (WMBE) is 36 percent. Littlejohn reported that out of $8.5 million already procured for the project, three million has already gone to WMBE firms.

The Network for Better Futures, a Northside nonprofit, has already begun salvaging work on the project. Littlejohn assured the committee that bid alert announcements would be sent to contractors and to community organizations.

Mortenson’s minority labor hiring goals are in line with MPS. Their stated aim is to include 25 percent minority and five percent women as a percentage of all labor hours on the project.

To help meet this goal, Mortenson plans to host a recruitment and referral session during the first quarter of 2011 “to inform community members of the process for engaging their constituents on the project.”

The 8:30 am meeting, which was open to the public, was poorly attended by the community. Two of the committee’s minority members — Bishop Richard Howell, pastor of Shiloh Temple Church in North Minneapolis, and Dr. Craig Taylor of the University of Minnesota — were also not in attendance because of prior obligations.

However, community businessman and journalist Don Allen presented an idea for a Community Benefit Agreement on behalf of the North Minneapolis Fair Commerce Task Force.

A Community Benefit Agreement is a contract between a developer and the affected community that sets forth the benefits that the community will receive from a development in its community. This usually includes living wage jobs and local hiring and training programs.

While Allen’s proposal was put into the record, it wasn’t clear how or if his group’s proposal would be considered.

The new MPS building will be located on the site of the present Broadway Community School at 1250 Broadway in North Minneapolis. According to MPS, the new building “will provide financial savings, be a model of environmental sustainability, and enhance equal employment and business opportunities for minorities and women.”

Mel Reeves welcomes reader responses to mellaneous19@yahoo.com.