The Orleans Parish School Board voted Thursday to accept the final piece of a property insurance settlement after a seven-year legal battle. The amount remains confidential but is estimated to be in the $100 million to $200 million range.
But the good news was overshadowed by evidence of school construction conflicts, including projects coming to a halt over minority contractor participation, and a power struggle between the district's directors of facilities and minority contracts. Those revelations unfolded during hours of committee meetings.
President Ira Thomas, for months a loud voice insisting that contracts must include strong disadvantaged business participation, said there were times projects should proceed without it -- even as an advocate told the board the state NAACP is threatening action against the district for not living up to its promises.
The School Board has a non-legally binding target that 35 percent of contracts should go to certified disadvantaged business enterprises, which are usually but not always minority- or woman-owned. It's been a flash point: In June, Thomas and a minority contractors association accused acting Superintendent Stan Smith of purposely undermining the program. Complicating matters, federal agencies are legally required to accept the lowest bid.
Insurance settlement and the master plan
Before Hurricane Katrina, the School Board had insurance coverage totaling $200 million covering about 150 properties. With the exception of the first $2.5 million, however, it covered only wind and rain damage, not flood, according to outside counsel Brent Barriere.