Construction still king of big-money vendors for K12 schools

We reported last week that health care had overtaken road-builders and other construction companies as the state’s biggest vendors in recent years. But there is one place construction remains king: K12 schools.

The state allocates more than $10 billion a year in state and federal funding for schools, and a vast majority of it goes to teacher pay and benefits.

There are also a few vendors for food services and educational materials who do big business with the state’s school systems, according to the Open Georgia web site.

Burrell Ellis

Burrell Ellis

But 14 of the 25 biggest payments to vendors last year went to construction companies, who keep plenty busy in a growing state that always seems to be building or renovating schools.

Some of the top school construction companies – like their road-building counterparts – have been big donors to state politicians over the years, and with good reason. The governor and lawmakers must approve spending plans each year. The state this year will send districts about $230 million for construction. Districts raise tens of millions more through local taxes.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last week that 90 of the state’s biggest vendors had contributed about $1.8 million to Gov. Nathan Deal’s campaigns and his political action committee. Many of them are also frequent donors to the campaigns of top lawmakers.

The AJC’s investigation examined how common it is for the campaigns of politicians to hit up the people who do work for the government. The issue was raised anew by the recent conviction of former DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis, who was accused of strong-arming contractors for campaign contributions.

While companies like C.W. Matthews and E.R. Snell in Metro Atlanta have long been dominate road-builders for the state, Parrish Construction of Perry has led the way in school construction, according to the Open Georgia site. Districts reported paying about $241 million to Parrish for school construction from fiscal 2010 through fiscal 2014, the last year for which figures are available.

The company and its executives have contributed about $30,000 to state candidates since 2009, including about $9,700 to Deal and about $13,000 to Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle’s campaigns, according to campaign finance reports. Cagle is considered a possible candidate to run in 2018 to succeed Deal.

Lobbyist disclosure reports show Parrish is also big on entertaining school board members and other school officials. Their lobbyists reported spending about $144,000 from 2011 through 2014, mostly for meals for school board members attending state conferences. The company also reported giving officials at some school districts and universities that gave it contracts gift baskets during the Christmas holidays.

Among the other construction companies who came up big on the list for school construction from 2010 to 2014 was Carroll Daniel Construction, which is from Deal’s hometown of Gainesville. The company is another big backer of Deal and Cagle campaigns, and  districts reported paying Carroll Daniel about $150 million for construction from 2010 through 2014, according to Open Georgia. That’s about the same amount as Turner Construction in Atlanta, while districts reported payments of about $161 million to Meja Construction of Jackson and $103 million to Pope Construction of Statesboro.


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