A new study could soon reveal if Austin Community College and other area taxing entities hire enough minority- and women-owned businesses for contracting jobs.
The ACC board of trustees on Oct. 21 discussed whether to partially fund a disparity study that would review contracting practices of the community college, city of Austin, Travis County and Austin ISD. If approved, ACC would pay $200,000–$300,000 toward the study, said Neil Vickers, ACC vice president of budget and finance.
ACC's board-approved purchasing policy already stresses the need for hiring historically underutilized businesses, or HUBs, but laws prevent the college from establishing specific hiring quotas, Vickers said.
“[HUB status] can be used as one of several criteria for determined best value,” he said. “We do that in pretty much every contract, especially in construction but even in other service contracts the college has.”
Board members discussed whether the cost of the study—and possible subsequent costs, including another disparity study in five to six years—is worth the return.
“Even if we became aware through the study that there were shortcomings, what could we realistically do to address them?” board member John-Michael V. Cortez said. “I want the information. I'm just wrestling with whether we can afford it at this time.”
ACC aside, the city is paying more than $1 million toward the study, while school board members have agreed to pay up to $500,000, AISD chief operating officer Lawrence Fryer said.
“This has been discussed for some time among the board,” Fryer said. “This made sense right now because the city is conducting the disparity study and allowed us to join in for half the price.”
Travis County has allocated $200,000 in this year's budget toward the study, although the county's portion will be closer to $350,000, said Jon Wainwright, senior vice president of National Economic Research Associates Inc., the firm hired by the city of Austin to conduct the disparity study. The study began July 31 and is contracted through January 2015, he said.
“The city has agreed to foot the bill for all the costs the would be shared for all the entities—census data, surveys of business owners that would be conducted,” Wainwright said. “However, collecting individual data … is done separately in a customized manner for each participating entity.”
ACC board members could potentially decide at their next meeting Nov. 4 whether to join the disparity study.