DENVER – A Denver architectural firm is suing Denver Public Schools for discrimination in the selection of contractors, architects and designers for construction and renovation projects in the district.
Ron and Mike Roybal, founders of Roybal Corporation, filed a lawsuit in federal court in late July. They are of Hispanic origin.
The lawsuit alleges that, despite the district’s stated efforts to be more inclusive, the Denver Public Schools are still not awarding contracts to minority and women-owned contractors.
The district took on this mission after the brothers first questioned records from 2008 that the district selected only minority or women-owned companies two percent of the time. A 2014 follow-up report commissioned by the district itself found the percentage improved, but concluded that women and minority owned businesses were still “underutilized”.
“I think the point is that they don’t treat our community very well and respect our community,” Ron Roybal told Denver7 Investigates.
In their lawsuit, the roybals alleged that they had submitted bids for several DPS projects, but they were rejected. In one case, the lawsuit said, the Roybal Corporation completed the master plan to renovate Swansea Elementary, but the district has still selected another company to be its lead architect.
The aim of the project was to outsource 70 percent of the architecture and engineering work to women or minority-owned companies.
“We’re getting toilets,” said Ron Roybal of the district’s decision to use his company for small toilet conversions. “After you’ve received about a dozen denial letters, you’re wondering, ya [sic] knows what’s going to happen, “he said.
Denver Public Schools has not yet filed a response to the lawsuit in federal court, but Superintendent Tom Boasberg answered questions from Denver7 Investigates.
“We firmly reject any allegation of racist or ethnic discrimination of any kind,” said Boasberg.
“Can you safely say that you feel like things have changed since 2014?” Denver7 investigative reporter Ryan Luby asked.
“I can, and we commissioned it  Report ”, answered Boasberg. “We commissioned this report, in part because of concern that we are seeing the use of minority and women-owned companies not at the level we believed appropriate given the presence of these companies in the community.”
According to the disparity report, the district committed to a “goal” of giving 24 percent of its project funding to women or minority-owned companies.
The district released data from the projects in its 2012 bond program to Denver7 Investigates, showing that minority and women-owned companies received 29 percent of payments to architectural, engineering and subcontractors and nearly 15 percent of payments to contractors and subcontractors.
“We feel it is very important that we find and work with the most talented group of contractors, from diverse contractors, in the city and state, and we think this is a very important part of the local program and a critical part is to ensure that we use taxpayers money in the best possible way to serve our children, “said Boasberg.
But the roybals wonder if the school board is taking this obligation seriously. In their lawsuit, the roybals challenged a statement made by a representative of the company selected in the Swansea project.
In an interview with the school board prior to the selection of the company, a representative said on video: “Today I can’t honestly say that I will reach 70 percent.”
“It showed us that there is no level playing field,” said Ron Roybal.
Boasberg said that since that video meeting, the company has contracted to meet this diversity goal.
The Roybals and DPS have worked together on projects in the past, and DPS once wrote a letter of recommendation for them in 2001, in which he wrote: “This company has demonstrated the design and technical expertise in DPS school projects.”
The roybals said they have been encouraging Denver Public Schools for years to be more committed to the diversity of their contract practices and filed their lawsuit because they still don’t believe the commitment is strong enough.
“It may not help us at all in the short term, but I think this type of public discussion will really help change things in the future,” Ron Roybal told Denver7 Investigates.
DPS said it is also trying to change things in the future, but it won’t happen overnight.
“We are only 18 months old. Are there ways to improve our processes? Yes, there is, ”said Boasberg.
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