Bibb school board members squabble over minority participation

Two Bibb County school board members bumped heads over service contracts during a board meeting Thursday night.

Tom Hudson and Lester Miller had a heated discussion over what Hudson called “very low minority participation” when it comes to awarding service contracts to businesses.

Miller is chairman of a review committee created to look at reworking board policy to include more minority businesses.

“We do have inadequate representation, but we’ve done everything we can do,” Miller said, adding that he has reached out to local minority business owners but they haven’t shown up to meetings or responded.

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink,” he said.

Hudson and board member Wanda West, who also serves on the committee, have only met with Miller on one occasion, according to Miller. West was absent from Thursday’s meeting.

Miller said he has emailed West and Hudson several times to set a meeting.

“At one point, you told me to never email you again,” Miller said to Hudson. “We can’t just voluntarily award people contracts when they don’t come to meetings or even apply for it.”

When three capital projects came up for a vote, Hudson was the only no vote, citing the “lack of process” on each of the following items:

$750,000 to International City Builders for converting Bloomfield Middle School to Southfield Elementary School.

$264,810 to Roof Management Inc. to replace the roof on the school system’s Welcome Center.

$1.2 million to Chris R. Sheridan & Co. to create a renovation design for Bernd Elementary School.

“I’m sick and tired of awarding contracts not representative of the school district’s population,” Hudson said, adding that just 1 percent of service contracts are awarded to minority businesses.

Responding to Miller’s complaints, Hudson told The Telegraph it was “a bunch of bull.” He said he doesn’t like to conduct school board business over email and that Miller was making excuses.

Another important talking point for the school board was the continuation of the education special purpose local option sales tax -- or ESPLOST -- which is a penny-on-the-dollar sales tax dedicated to education.

Jason Daniel, executive director of capital programs for the school system, presented a list of potential items that would be funded by the ESPLOST over the next five years.

The desired projects include: upgrading both Northeast high and middle schools by providing a common campus arrangement similar to the set-up at Howard and Rutland; making classroom additions at existing elementary schools to accommodate student population; building an auditorium at Rutland and Westside high schools; making renovations such as new floor coverings, paint, ceilings and roof replacement at older locations; providing maintenance and replacement to school buses; and upgrading district technology.

Board President Thelma Dillard had some concerns over possibly including projects from the district’s two charter schools -- Academy for Classical Education and Macon Charter Academy.

“We do need to look at every situation and be accountable,” Dillard said. “So we can be responsible and not just rubber stamp something.”

Representatives from the charter schools were there to provide general updates about school operations to the board, but Dillard said she needs more specific information from the charter schools before deciding whether to include them in the final ESPLOST projects list.

Board member Jason Downey suggested holding a work session in early June to go over each item in detail.

To contact writer David Schick, call 744-4382.