Detroit schools to cut admin, instructional jobs

The Detroit News

Detroit — In his first sweeping act as superintendent, Nikolai Vitti announced a plan Tuesday to save more than $5 million and cut dozens of positions in the city’s public school district.

The cuts target about 60 instructional specialists’ positions with the Detroit Public Schools Community District’s central office. Vitti also said some 20 administrative roles are eliminated.

The moves were announced Tuesday as part of the school system’s first reorganization under Vitti to help lay the groundwork for boosting student achievement.

“We must create a new culture at the district that is committed to directly supporting schools, which means principals and teachers,” Vitti said in a statement.

By eliminating administrative positions, schools officials believe there will be a reduction of duplicate roles and “greater ownership of responsibilities.” Through the reorganization, the district aims to generate more than $5 million of revenue to help schools improve technology access, programming, as well as teacher and principal professional development, officials said Tuesday.

“After listening to internal and external stakeholders, namely principals and teachers, it was clear that we needed to develop new systems and processes that are led by district leaders who have a sense of urgency about ensuring that the best service is provided to schools,” Vitti said. “This has not been occurring with consistency.”

According to the district, principals are encouraged to use remaining instructional specialists — certified teachers on special assignment — to fill classroom vacancies. If there are none, the instructional specialist would remain outside the classroom.

The move appears to address the district’s teacher shortage, said Ivy Bailey, president for the Detroit Federation of Teachers. District representatives have placed the number of openings at more than 200. Bailey also anticipates some staff to retire over the summer, but the exact number is unclear.

“Unfortunately, we have a teacher shortage and instructional specialists are usually teachers who are highly qualified. They have a wealth of knowledge — what I call a tool kit of many strategies that are not only used to help students but help teachers improve their craft,” she said Tuesday. “I cannot at this time have an objection to putting some of the best teachers back into the classroom when we have a shortage and our kids need them.”

Also under the plan, “mid-level management structures, such as the ‘Network’ structure, will be eliminated to improve the flow of information and support from central office to schools. Departments associated with curriculum and instruction, professional development, and teacher and principal development will be revamped to improve quality and improve academic performance.”

District officials say newly created and vacant positions will be filled by internal and external candidates, including “recruits nationally and from areas where the superintendent has led reform.”

The superintendent has called for boosting recruitment to fill teaching positions. A teacher recruitment fair was held Tuesday at Benjamin Carson High School of Science and Medicine in a bid to fill spots.

“We must ensure that the district’s organization structure does not exacerbate our teacher vacancy challenges,” Vitti said. “Every one of our students deserves to have a fully certified teacher from the first day of school to the last day.”

The shift translates into a stronger district, said LaMar Lemmons, who sits on the school board “I give the superintendent carte blanche to do whatever is necessary to reduce the teacher shortage, downsize the administration, put more teachers in the classroom. Hopefully parents will know in the short run we’ll have more certified teachers in front of our students.”

Deborah Louis-Ake, president for the Organization of School Administrators and Supervisors, said she did not expect the members in her union to be cut as part of the plan. Some academic engagement administrators could even be promoted to principals since they have similar responsibilities, she said.

Vitti’s measure “is going to be an improvement from where we are because this is the first time we’ve had somebody who is going to be looking at children” and their success, said Louis-Ake, who joined the district more than 40 years ago. “Emergency managers came in and they looked at finance. He’s making hard decisions ... but the issue is, we need teachers. It’s chronic.”

The reorganization comes weeks after Vitti indicated raises for teachers, hiring more educators and pursuing a “student-first state and local policy agenda” were among plans he’d pursue the next two years.

Also among the first priorities is a collective bargaining agreement with the Detroit Federation of Teachers. The current contract expires Friday; the union’s executive board rejected a tentative agreement last month.