Editorial: Make Detroit's schools work for students
Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti is following through on his commitment to overhaul the district’s facilities, and he’s working to ensure that any money spent on upgrading buildings is a smart investment. This seems like the right approach.
Vitti, who’s led the district since 2017, initially focused his attention on revamping outdated curriculum, and addressing students’ lowest-in-the-country test scores.
But now he’s turning to other problems, including the buildings where students are expected to learn. Vitti is heading to the neighborhoods, talking with parents and residents about challenges facing DPSCD and what the most realistic options are, given the district’s finances.
He’s also taking a close look at the “feeder pattern” of schools in different neighborhoods to assess how families’ needs are being met. Vitti wants to make sure students are in the best facilities available to them.
He has acknowledged the district needs right-sizing, given the large number of buildings operating at less than full capacity — and the number in need of massive remodeling. In some cases, he says it would make more sense to build a new, smaller building than attempt to remodel an existing building in disrepair.
In other cases, closing buildings and consolidation will also be on the table. One building set to close is Pulaski K-8, and students and staff will move to another building.
“We need a long term plan that will make the district whole with its buildings,” Vitti said during an interview with our editorial board earlier this year. He is asking the community, “How do we right-size the district but also give you something that is what children deserve?”
A report from OHM Advisors finds the district’s 100 buildings require $543 million in repairs, and that number is expected to spike to roughly $1.5 billion in four years if the most glaring needs aren’t addressed soon.
The report found about 25% of DPSCD buildings are in unsatisfactory condition and another 20% are in poor condition.
Vitti has said the district is considering restructuring current debt or the possibility of another bond. Following the state’s bailout of the district in 2016, it’s limited in its ability to seek new funding. All other options should be on the table before going that route, however, as Detroiters are still paying on bonds approved in 1994 ($1.5 billion) and 2009 ($500.5 million).
Other proposed changes include making the district more competitive with neighboring charter schools. Vitti would like to convert Martin Luther King Jr. High School into a full exam school in the manner of Cass Tech and Renaissance.
He also wants to boost specialty and vo-tech training.
Another good cost-saving idea is moving the district's central office, currently located at the Fisher Building, to the former Northern High School, which had housed the Detroit International Academy (that school will move to the GEE White Academy building).
Vitti has more meetings planned in the coming weeks, and citizens should come out and help him restructure the district in a way that works best for all involved.