A committee of local community members has narrowed a list of search firms to a handful of semifinalists, from which one will be chosen to help the Orleans Parish School Board find its next superintendent.

That’s big news.

Now here’s the bad news. According to media reports, only two of the semifinalist search firms included subcontracts with DBE-certified businesses in their bids. One of the firms committed to a full 35 percent DBE participation. Another indicated in its bid that it would work with a local woman-owned firm, according to a report in The Times-Picayune.

The worse news? There are members of the community committee that actually fail to see a problem with the fact that the other semifinalist firms didn’t factor in DBE participation.
According to media reports, Dillard University President Walter Kimbrough had this to say as it related to DBE participation in the search firm contract: “That’s not what we’re concerned about. We’re concerned about getting the best person to run the schools.”

Say it isn’t so. With all due respect to Dr. Kimbrough, to suggest that DBE participation can be overlooked in this piece of the puzzle misses the big picture.

First of all, the goal of 35 percent DBE participation is school board policy designed to ensure that minority-owned and women-owned businesses get a share in school board contracts. In a city that is majority African-American and one in which the unemployment rate among Black men is said to be 50 percent, adhering to that policy, reaching that goal in every area of Orleans Parish School Board business could not be more critical.

If it is OK to suggest that fulfilling the policy in its contract with the search firm is not as important as finding a good superintendent, then why not say fulfilling the policy in a multi-billion dollar contract with a construction company is not as important as building sturdy, state-of-the-art school buildings so let’s not be so concerned with it? Why not say that fulfilling the policy in its contract to provide food services or bus services or janitorial services is not as important as the provision of those services themselves? I mean, that’s the logic, right?

Why have the policy at all?

Well, we have them because DBE policies—ones like the Orleans Parish School Board, or the New Orleans Aviation Board, the Sewerage and Water Board and even the city of New Orleans have—are not about the individual contracts or the specific projects. They are about the big picture.

They are policies that speak to the realization that in order to have a strong, vigorous community, all of its residents must have the opportunity to benefit from the economic engines that move it. They are big picture policies.

The mission of the Orleans Parish School Board is to provide quality learning environments that promote academic excellence and engage the family and community in the support of student achievement. And the school board’s DBE policy is a piece of the puzzle that supports that mission. That’s big picture. It will take more than a superintendent, or any one teacher to make that happen. That’s big picture.

It takes consistency, innovation, best practices, and a sound set of policies that are comprehensive and reflect every aspect what is truly necessary to create those learning environments inside and outside of the classroom.

The Orleans Parish School Board could ultimately hire the world’s greatest superintendent, and I fear educational outcomes for the children who attend public schools in New Orleans would hardly change for the better unless we focus on the mission—the big picture—even as we examine the smallest detail. What good is a great superintendent or highly-qualified teacher if children (and in the case of Orleans Public Schools, mostly Black children) are living in homes where fathers are jobless and mothers cannot earn a living wage? What good is it if they live in a city where a business owned by someone that looks like doesn’t have the chance to benefit from public contracts so that it can grow, compete and ultimately become a force that helps to build and sustain the community by providing good-paying jobs and supporting important efforts with its resources?

That’s big picture. And when we start suggesting that it is okay to overlook the big picture in one space—however small it might seem—the view will never come in focus.

And another thing…I am bothered by t the implication that the two—DBE participation and the provision of a quality good or service—are mutually exclusive. This isn’t an either-or scenario. And governmental agencies that have DBE laws and guidelines must make it clear to every corporation and company that the best proposal, the one that will get the job will be the one offering the best services or goods and the fairest price with the inclusion of a DBE.

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