OAKLAND — The Oakland school district receives plenty of attention for its education policies and academic track record. But the agency is a major economic player as well — and not simply because it employs nearly 5,000 people.
Each year, the school district spends more than $100 million in contracts for projects ranging from school evaluations and special education to painting and construction. In recent years — in large part, thanks to Oakland taxpayers, who took on debt to modernize the district's crumbling schools — Oakland Unified has spent upward of $60 million a year on bond-funded capital improvements alone.
So it's easy to understand why members of the East Bay Small Business Council celebrated at the school board meeting this week when the board unanimously passed a policy requiring all contract bids to include at least some local business participation.
If the policy is well-implemented, more of those dollars will stay in Oakland, which will keep more residents employed and help small companies thrive, said Darrel Carey, chairman and CEO of the small-business council.
"I think it will be a good shot in the arm for the local economy," he said.
Carey, who promoted the policy, is known for violent outbursts at public meetings and for threatening those who he perceives to be hindering the interests of local businesses. ("Get your police department ready," Carey said at a school board meeting this fall, in response to a district investigation into the local Bryant & Brown law firm. "You're going to have problems here. Big problems." Earlier this month, he stormed out of a school board meeting, saying loudly that board member Gary Yee — who had asked questions about the local vendor proposal — "needs his a-- whipped." In 2007, Oakland City Councilmember Larry Reid and others physically restrained Carey at City Hall after he threatened to fight developer Phil Tagami.)
But Carey didn't say a word Wednesday night. And no one from the public, or the school board, spoke against the proposal.
Tim White, who oversees the school district's facilities projects, said the local-vendor policy is modeled after the one in place for the city of Oakland but includes additional incentives for small, local, resident-owned businesses.
The school district previously had in place an agreement with local trade associations that required that a certain percentage of workers staffing a project were Oakland residents. The new policy, by contrast, requires that at least 20 percent of every contract include materials, supplies, labor or services from locally owned businesses. In essence, it requires out-of-town contractors to form partnerships with local companies before submitting a bid.
Board member Alice Spearman took the lead on the initiative. She told colleagues that she believed the new requirements would pave the way for stronger apprenticeship and career technical training programs for students, as well as jobs for Oakland taxpayers.
"It's just opening the door for all kinds of opportunities for us," she said.