Detroit schools budget reflects first year of reform

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Placing master teachers across the district, adding art or music to every school and employing a full teaching staff are key parts of a $732 million budget for the 2018-19 school year at Detroit Public Schools Community District.

The DPSCD Board of Education approved the budget, proposed by superintendent Nikolai Vitti, on Tuesday. It still needs final approval from the Detroit Financial Review Commission. That’s expected to happen later this month.

In the budget, Vitti makes dramatic changes in school leadership, including having principals work 12 months a year instead of 10, staffing at least one assistant principal at each school and creating a dean of culture to lead climate and culture services in buildings.

The year-round schedule will give principals more time for their own professional development and allow them to recruit staff better, Vitti said.

“The budget has quite a few dollars for training teachers on new curriculum. It will be exciting to visit schools in the fall and actually see curriculum in use that is aligned to the standards. We will see a new level of student engagement,” Vitti said.

The budget includes funding for all open teaching positions in the district. The current number of vacancies is around 200 for the district of 50,875 students.

The budget also will cover expenses for professional development, school programs, technology, curriculum, assessments and academic intervention tools, among others.

“I’m excited about moving into our first year with implementing the reform — not talking about what is broken and what systems don’t exist. It’s about implementing our reform agenda,” Vitti said. “I am most excited about the initiative linked to the whole child with art or music in every school.”

Vitti also wants to have master teachers — two per grade band (K-5, 6-8, 9-12) to support and coach teachers in English/literacy and math. He also wants one art or music teacher as well as one gym teacher at every school. He also wants one guidance counselor, one graduation coach, one school culture facilitator and one attendance agent per school, based on enrollment.

Finding enough music or art teachers to place at least one at every building will be a challenge, Vitti said.

“We have to start with the foundation and build there. Our vision is to offer music or art at every school. We need to recruit teachers in art or music at every school. We have to start with the vision. We have budgeted for the positions. This starts the process,” he said.

Funding in the budget will also upgrade technology district-wide at the school level and expands after school and Saturday school services.

The district is expected to get an additional $120 per student in the 2018-19 school years, around $6 million additional for the year. The district receives a foundation allowance of $7,651 per student.

Board member LaMar Lemmons said the budget shows the district, which was run by state-installed emergency managers from 2006 to 2016, is moving in the right direction.

Lemmons remains concerned about the current teacher shortage but is hoping the district can recruit new teachers and former DPS teachers who want to come back.

“We need the right balance,” he said.