Detroit school board OKs settlement, approves contract

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

A new testing calendar with fewer assessments and a $28 million settlement to pay off a court judgment were among the items approved Tuesday by the board of education for the Detroit Public Schools Community District.

The board also formally approved a three-year contract for the Detroit Federation of Teachers and its 2017-18 academic calendar for the district, which expects an estimated 47,950 students to begin school on Sept. 5.

The testing calendar reduces the numbers of assessments in K-12 from 204 a year to 63. The reduction was made by aligning district assessments with state tests and eliminating district assessments.

Students will still take the statewide assessment known as MSTEP, and state-required reading assessments for K-1-2 will continue. Students will not be formally tested with assessments in October, November and March.

“We looked at ways to dramatically reduce testing to create more time for instruction and whittle down the assessment calendar so data from assessment can be actionable,” Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said last month of the proposed change.

The board also approved a payment plan to resolve a $31-million court judgment owed by Detroit Public Schools to a contractor.

A federal judge in Detroit and an arbitrator have both ordered DPS to pay Sodexo Management, a company hired in 2011 for physical plant operations, but the district has fought making the payment since August 2016.

The district hired Sodexo in January 2011 on a five-year, $43.5 million contract to provide custodial, building repair, maintenance, engineering and grounds services through seven subcontractors. By late 2011, the district had fallen behind on payments, court records show.

DPS originally owed $23 million in outstanding invoices to Sodexo, and now owes an additional $8 million in contractual interest.

In 2015 an arbitrator ordered the district to pay Sodexo. The delay in the case is costing taxpayers more than $7,500 per day in interest while DPS fails to clear the debt.

The settlement will have district make payments to Sodexo of $16 million in August, $2 million in February and April and $8 million in August 2018, for a total of $28 million.

According to board documents, the settlement will eliminate more than $3 million in interest.

Attorneys for the district and Sodexo have been in settlement talks in recent weeks. The case is before U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith on Thursday for a status conference.

In other matters, the contract approved by the board for the Detroit Federation of Teachers has a 3 percent increase in 2017-18 and a 4.13 percent increase in 2018-19, and a $1,750 bonus for some teachers with advanced degrees.

There will be no reduction in salaries, wages or other forms of compensation for members for the 2019-20 school year, union officials said, and there is a potential for an additional wage increase in the third year.

Vitti said the contract provides raises for the first time in a decade and unfreezes steps.

“This begins to address the injustices. It doesn’t make it whole ... but it’s the first step,” he said.

The board also approved an agreement with the Highland Park School District to educate students in grades nine through 12 at DPSCD schools. The Highland Park district only operates K-8 schools, which are charters, and has no high school.

The board passed a resolution that required the Highland Park Board of Education also to approve the agreement. The district is run by an emergency manager.

The Highland Park board is scheduled to meet Monday, according to its website.