Superintendent Tom Shelton said Fayette County Public Schools staff will look into requiring general contractors to use more minority and women-owned subcontractors on school construction projects.
"It's certainly a problem," said Shelton. "It's something we need to have a larger and greater focus on."
Lanier Hobbs, who said he submits bids for work as a subcontractor on Fayette Schools construction projects, brought up the issue at Monday's school board meeting.
Hobbs said he was concerned that the district's goal of having general contractors use minority subcontractors on construction projects is "just a goal" and does not have the teeth of a regulation.
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"It doesn't create a level playing field," said Hobbs.
According to the district's website, to fulfill the diversity goals and objectives established by the school board, the board committed in its strategic plan to increase minority- and women-owned business contracts and expenditures by 10 percent.
At Monday's meeting, Board member Doug Barnett asked for district staff to investigate Hobbs' complaint. The school board will take up the issue at its next planning meeting in October.
"What he said is disturbing," Barnett said of Hobbs' complaint.
Board member Daryl Love at Monday's meeting questioned whether the goal needed "more teeth," and asked "are we encouraging general contactors?"
P.G. Peeples, president and CEO of the Urban League of Lexington-Fayette County, said Hobbs was "not the first minority contractor that I've heard express concerns and frustration about trying to secure contracts to do business with Fayette County schools."
The Urban League is an advocacy and service organization that helps blacks and other minorities, Peeples said.
Shelton in an interview on Thursday said the district has made huge improvements in having minority representation with contractors that the district deals with directly. The district's spending with minority- and women-owned business grew from $69,000 in 2010 to $954,000 in 2013, district spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said.
But Shelton said subcontractors are chosen by general contractors. He said the district asks general contractors to try to increase the minority-owned businesses that they use as subcontractors.
"We could take a more aggressive approach and have requirements for them," he said.
"We are going to examine our bid practices and policies," Shelton said, "to see if we can have a more thorough requirement."
Peeples said there are examples throughout Lexington's business community that could serve as models for the school district.
When governing boards push for more minority inclusion, that advocacy ends up "paying dividends for both the minority and majority community," said Peeples. "What you try to do is to create a culture of inclusion that the board goes by and passes down through the staff."
Ed Holmes, whose civil engineering firm has done design work for the district, said he would like for the school board to make stronger efforts to increase opportunities for businesses on the design side and for construction contractors.
Sean Edwards, a general contractor, said he thought that the school district and other organizations should put more teeth behind the goals.
Hobbs, meanwhile, said in an interview that it would be up to Shelton to enforce whatever regulation was developed.
"This has to trickle from the top down," he said.