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Is student labor the answer to Buffalo Schools' MWBE challenge?

Mike Desmond

At Wednesday's Buffalo School Board meeting, the long struggle over getting more minority and women-owned businesses among the vendors to the district system turned into a discussion about using student labor.

The district is planning to send postcards to households in the city about the expanding community schools network and parent centers. Since it involves tens of thousands of households, the printing job went out to bid.

The low bid came to the School Board Wednesday night as $19,000 from a Lancaster firm, with no minority workers. Board members long angry about few contracts for minority firms suggested something had to be done.

Board Member Jen Mecozzi said using students and district presses seemed a good way to go.

"For that amount of money and utilizing it as a learning experience, it's a way for us to be able to give the youth whatever it is that we're doing," Mecozzi said. "If it's for $19,000, it could be a project. It could be something along those lines. So I would literally like, why aren't we using the students?"

Board Member Sharon Belton Cottman agreed it is a good idea.

"And order as many postcards as I want, okay, that's a simple thing," Belton Cottman said. "What I don't want to hear, the superintendent talks about the year of instruction, we should be looking at these things internally and coming up with a plan of some sort for our children, even if it means that they work after school and get paid a stipend.)

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

Associate Superintendent Sabatino Cimato worked in the printing business and said it is not simple.

"The difference between a two-color and a four-color job, how you cut it, what's the size of the postcard, what is legal for mail to get out so that it makes a certain cost, how they get folded?" Cimato said. "So the process that something like that, students may be able to do components of that job, but sometimes to do a whole job like that would become extremely challenging."

The contract is actually much larger than $19,000. Adding in postage, it is a $56,000 contract. It's not clear if the district has the equipment needed to add mailing addresses and postage to student-printed postcards for shipment to the U.S. Postal Service.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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