Detroit school board approves major overhaul to schools

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Detroit — Major restructuring plans approved by the Detroit board of education this week will move students to buildings in better physical condition, move programs into different schools and add another examination school.

The board, which approved the restructuring plan Wednesday, hopes the changes will increase the rigor at several of its high schools and boost K-12 enrollment in the state's largest district. 

Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of Detroit Public Schools Community District, talks during a conversation on district changes with parents and community members in November.

Changes, which are to take effect in the fall across the Detroit Public Schools Community District, include:

  • Golightly Career Technical Center's career technical education programming will be reconfigured. Culinary programming will remain at the school, and the district's food and nutrition programming will be relocated there. Golightly's printing, graphic and design programming will be expanded into a district graphic, printing and design department and remain at the school.
  • Davis Aerospace will remain at the Golightly building or relocate to the city airport, a decision to be made at a later date. The school's IT and welding and cutting programs will relocate to Southeastern. According to a district memo, the changes will make the remaining CTE programming offered at Golightly and Davis Aerospace "viable, real-world training that will better prepare students for future careers in the culinary arts, printing, graphics and design, and in aerospace and aviation industries."
  • Southeastern High School, currently an exam school, will be converted into a traditional high school that offers career technical programming with a neighborhood boundary. It will retain its examination school status for students applying to its business administration program. 
  • The Detroit International Academy for Young Women, located at Northern High, will be relocated to the former GEE White Academy. District officials said Northern requires significant repair and DIA’s enrollment continues to decline. The current Northern building has the capacity to serve 2,000 students but currently is only 10% utilized. 
  • Northern will be eventually be used to relocate the district's central office, now located in the Fisher building, to a community-centered location. 
  • Communications and Media Arts High School will relocate to Ludington Middle School, and CMA students will be required to take an exam as part of the application process. Ludington students will remain in the building until current students have graduated.
  • Pulaski Elementary-Middle School will be moved to Adult Education East. District officials said Pulaski is currently over-enrolled and the cost to repair the school is $10 million. Adult Education East, less than two miles from Pulaski's, is fully renovated and not at capacity.

The restructuring changes are the result of district planning and public talks superintendent Nikolai Vitti and his staff have had since the fall. District officials collected feedback from parents, taxpayers and others from the discussions before taking final recommendations to the school board on Wednesday.

“We are excited about implementing the approved changes this year," Vitti said. "We are confident that the changes will continue to increase our district’s enrollment, expand programming across the city and district, place more students in better facilities and lead to the more efficient use of our building."

At meetings in December and January, Vitti discussed with the community the depth and cost of all the needed building repairs across the district, what kinds of school feeder patterns have evolved in neighborhoods and the impact of state disinvestment in the district when emergency managers operated the district.

The district continues to face $543 million in facilities needs and repairs and can’t collect a single penny of taxes to address the problem. Waiting another four years to deal with the widespread poor building conditions would cause the price to soar to nearly $1.5 billion, according to an assessment by engineering consulting firm OHM Advisors.

The school board released a report on Nov. 14 detailing the impact emergency management has had on the district from 1999 to 2016. The report estimates the cost to the district was $610 million, including the costs of repairs, additional interest on loans, real estate overspending and overbilling by contractors.

In the last two school years, the district has spent $30 million to invest in its buildings. Vitti has said a bond proposal to address facilities could come in the future.

On Wednesday, the DPSCD board also approved spending $25.3 million from its capital projects fund for maintenance and repairs. The money will be used to replace boilers, repair roofs and other improvements.

Terrence Martin, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said on Thursday his office is still reviewing the restructuring changes to determine the impact on members. Martin said he expects to have a statement soon.

Detroit resident Helen Moore said while the district lacks the funds to make the needed repairs to many of its schools, she wants more details on the restructuring plan to make sure it's the right direction for the district's children.

"We need to know exactly what the plan is and how it affects everybody," said Moore, who attended the board meeting. "We don't want to get caught with any surprises."