© 2023 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Kansas City Public Schools Wants To Give Its Business To More Minority-Owned Companies

Elle Moxley
KCUR 89.3
Lincoln College Preparatory Academy is overcrowded. Kansas City Public Schools is encouraging minority- and women-owned businesses to bid on renovations at the middle school across the street in the 18th and Vine neighborhood.

Chappell Electric is the very definition of a small business: call, and owner Germaine Chappell picks up on the second ring.

“Our motto is to exceed above expectations,” Chappell says. “Every job we go on, we give 100 percent and go up and beyond what the general contractor or the client is asking for.”

That attitude just landed Chappell Electric a $1.2 million contract to do the wiring at Lincoln Middle School, which is slated to reopen in 2019. The Kansas City Public Schools Board of Directors signed off on agreements with Chappell Electric and 12 other companies Wednesday night.

It used to be that public entities like school districts could only award contracts to businesses with the resources to bid an entire project. The Lincoln Middle School restoration, for example, will cost an estimated $18 million. But a change in Missouri law has made it easier for KCPS to award contracts to small vendors whose bids might not have been competitive under the old rules.

And that’s helping the district in another way. One of the goals for the Lincoln Middle School project is to have at least 20 percent of the work done by minority- or women-owned businesses.

“There’s a really sincere effort to make sure the construction team that’s working on Lincoln Middle School is a part of the community, that it’s reflective of the neighborhood,” says Luke Deets of McCownGordon Construction, the project's construction manager.

Lincoln College Preparatory Academy opened in 1865 as a first-of-its-kind high school for black students in what was then known as the Kansas City, Missouri, School District. Today Lincoln routinely makes U.S. News & World Report’s list of best high schools. Lincoln has gotten so popular that the school board voted last fall to reopen the middle school in order to relieve overcrowding at the high school.

Linda Quinley, KCPS’ chief financial and operations officer, says it’s more work to prepare each individual contract – think 50 times the paperwork – but it’s worth the effort. Fully 33 percent of the $7.7 million in contracts awarded this week went to minority-owned companies.

It’ll be up to McCownGordon to keep all the individual contractors on track, Quinley says.

“The reason you have a construction management firm helping you is because when you have these multiple parties or contractors, someone has to keep them all in the right place at the right time doing the right thing so we don’t slow work for anyone else,” Quinley says.

Chappell, who is black, says he tries to give back to the community by teaching a trade to people who’ve been incarcerated. He’s done electrical work for a couple of charter schools, and he’s glad the district is trying to give small business owners a seat at the table.

“It’s a good process to give an even playing field for this caliber of a job,” Chappell says. “The school district has done an outstanding job with implementing goals on participation to make sure that small businesses like myself have a shot at actually growing.”

Elle Moxley covers education for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and powerful storytelling.
Your donation helps make nonprofit journalism available for everyone.