Detroit schools chief: District can now pay for counselors, art classes, and gym in every school
After months spent talking about expensive new programs he’d like to see, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says he’s found money in the Detroit district’s budget to hire a slew of educators who’ve been missing for years from city schools.
The budget framework he presented to a school board committee Friday calls for every city school to have a guidance counselor, an arts or music teacher, a gym teacher, and a “dean of school culture” who would be in charge of student discipline and creating in-school suspension programs.
Vitti’s proposals didn’t have specific dollar amounts attached, but provided a vision for how he wants to allocate the district’s money for next school year.
High schools would each have a graduation coach to make sure students are earning the credits they need to graduate in four years, are taking college entrance exams, or preparing for post-high school careers. And every student in grades K-5 will get three field trips a year through a new “cultural passport program,” as well as expanded sports programs in elementary and middle schools.
“Going to the Detroit Institute of Arts or to the Music Hall or to the zoo … all these activities will be part of the standard DPSCD experience that will be used to market our schools going forward,” Vitti said.
Vitti has said making the experience of attending district schools more appealing is one way he plans to draw more students and staff into the district.
He also told the school board’s finance committee that principals will work 12 months – up from 10 – after years of largely getting their summers off. That, Vitti said, will give them time to focus on recruiting students and teachers while their assistant principals run summer schools.
“I think principals need to start sharing the burden of recruiting,” Vitti said. “There was a culture of ‘Oh, that’s the district’s job.’”
The district has almost 200 teacher vacancies, and giving schools money for a gym teacher doesn’t mean a school will be able to hire one. But Vitti said he has several efforts in the works to address the difficulties of recruiting new employees.
He told the committee that he hopes to make recruiting easier in the next few months by negotiating with the city teachers union the ability to pay higher salaries to experienced teachers who come from outside the district. Currently the contract won’t allow the district to pay new teachers any more than a beginner level salary, even if they’ve worked for a decade in another district or charter school.
Vitti also said he wants to make entering the district as a new hire easier. Some principals have complained that the hiring process is so laborious that candidates sometimes accept other offers while waiting for their contracts with the Detroit district to come through.
“You don’t have to go to this side of town to do the fingerprinting, then going to this side of town for the drug test,” Vitti said.
Vitti said the goal of his plan is “to make decisions and change some of our funding priorities while still being conservative to ensure sustainability,” and that “the budget is structured to prevent us from being in a place where we’re overspending.”
Vitti says the money would come from state funding from increased enrollment, federal grants, and money the district would save by combining the independent schools operating within three multi-school campuses: the Mumford, Cody, and Crockett/Ben Carson campuses.
His plans to combine the schools on each campus to “reduce administrative costs and create singular leadership” would save the district roughly $2 million, he said.
The committee is expected to vote on the proposals later this month, and if approved, the plan could go before the full board in April, Vitti said.
Adding to school staff
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