DPS touts enrollment boost after taking on EAA kids

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Detroit — Detroit’s public school district touted its first enrollment increase in 15 years on Thursday as it benefited from the addition of students absorbed from a failed state-run city school district.

While Detroit Public Schools Community District grew by more than 4,600 from a year ago, that figure included Detroit students folded back into the district from the dismantled Education Achievement Authority, which oversaw 5,089 students by the end of last school year.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti announced at a press conference on Thursday that DPSCD now has more than 50,100 students.

That preliminary number is an increase compared to the fall projected enrollment of 47,950 students, which included an estimated 4,000 students coming into the district from the EAA — 11 schools in Detroit that closed in June.

The actual number of students counted on the district’s fall count day earlier this month was 49,758 students, compared to 45,500 students two weeks after the 2016 fall count. This year’s count number was lower than the actual number of students who enrolled at the district because some students did not stay the full day on count day and could not be counted, school officials said.

Vitti also boasted on Thursday that the district saw its lowest exodus of students headed for charter schools in four years. School officials say 1,650 students entered the district from charter schools in September while only 537 left for charter schools this school year.

“Not only are we seeing an increase in enrollment, but we are seeing a decrease in the number of students leaving,” Vitti said. “A lot of people ask me why. I think the first factor is an elected and empowered board. ... For the first time in over a decade, we have true local control.”

Because the district’s 2017-18 budget was based on an estimated enrollment of 47,950 for count day this fall, Vitti said, the increase of 1,808 students actually counted means the district will get the $11 million in additional state aid for students.

“There is very few indicators when you look at the academic and overall health of an organization — specifically a district — than enrollment. Why? Enrollment is the intentional act of parents saying ‘I choose you,’ ” Vitti said.

The budgeted projection included former EAA students, school officials said. At the same time, DPSCD was expected to lose about 1,000 students overall from last year, Vitti told The News this fall.

The district did not respond to requests for information on how many new students came from EAA schools to DPSCD, or how many new students were new enrollments from Detroit, with no history in the EAA or charter schools.

LaMar Lemmons, a board of education member at DPSCD, said Vitti’s numbers are accurate.

“There was an increase. There was never supposed to be 5,000 kids coming over (from EAA) because of the graduating seniors from the high schools,” Lemmons said of the six EAA-run high schools. “That shaves off some numbers.”

Lemmons said the enrollment increase beyond the EAA transfers included students who previously attended charter schools in the city or suburbs.

“They were Detroit residents. His numbers are right. If they weren’t, I would know,” Lemmons said.

The district’s per-pupil funding is based on two counts, one in the fall and one in late winter. DPSCD receives 90 percent of its funding based on the fall count and 10 percent based on the later winter count. The district receives a foundation allowance of $7,651 per student.

The enrollment increase allows the district to have stability with its budget and build out initiatives under the district’s three-year strategic plan, Vitti said.

Schools that saw the most increases were Ronald Brown Academy, Mumford High School, Noble Elementary-Middle School, John R. King Academy and Western International High School.

Vitti also on Thursday unveiled the district’s new three-year strategic plan, which Vitti says, has five priorities: improving academic achievement, transforming school culture, a child-centric approach, recruiting high-quality talent and responsible stewardship.

The district’s mission is about educating and empowering students.

“We want to give them a shield and a sword to go out into the community and fight the injustices they face every day,” Vitti said.

Ivy Bailey, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, attended Thursday’s announcement and said teachers are working hard in the district.

“I am pleased how he is reaching out the union and including us. Rightfully so. We did a lot of hard work. ... I like his vision and core values,” Bailey said.

Bailey said despite a teacher shortage — which remains at 150 vacancies — educators are fully committed.

“It took us a long time to dismantle our school system. It’s going to take us a long time to get it back. We are moving quicker than we expected to be. We have an elected school board. We have a superintendent who is an educator. That makes a really big difference,” she said.

Parent Kari Jordan attended the announcement and told the crowd about her decision to return to Detroit and enroll her third-grade son into school at DPSCD.

“I am so fired up now,” Jordan told Vitti. “I moved back to give my child the education I had.”