Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti (BridgeDetroit photo)

The head of Detroit’s public schools said he’s looking forward to a day when there isn’t a need for metal detectors and police officers in district buildings, but that day hasn’t yet come. 

Detroit Public Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti acknowledged the safety measures are “seemingly controversial” politically, but the district engages students and families on strategies they want implemented to stay safe. 

“At this point, I don’t feel that we can talk about safety and feeling safe without those strategies in place,” Vitti said in an interview with BridgeDetroit during the Mackinac Policy Conference, noting about 80% of DPSCD schools have metal detectors.

“And that metal detector is catching – occasionally – knives or guns at schools,” Vitti said. “Every time we have a knife or a gun at school we share with our students and our parents that a knife or gun was brought to school. I don’t believe that was happening in DPS consistently six years ago. In fact, I know that there were examples of knives and guns coming to school where there wasn’t a robo call that was sent honestly saying, ‘today a student brought a knife or a gun to school.’”

Access to weapons have become even more complicated in a lot of cities in the country, Vitti said, especially in Detroit with the level of crime and violence that students experience and see. 

Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, Vitti said there’s concern about not having officers in every building following mass school shootings, including Oxford High School. With active shooter drills and ensuring transparency when weapons are being brought into schools Detroit’s systems are much improved, he said. 

“The best metal detector is relationships with students and students feeling comfortable saying when a student has a weapon in school. Honestly, we detect more weapons in schools than even through metal detectors,” he said. “If you are intentional about getting a weapon in a school, you probably can figure out how to do that, unfortunately.”

DPSCD has its own officers, which is fortunate, Vitti said. Many districts contract officers or rely on city officers. 

“Now, every student looks at it differently, but I would say the majority of students I talk to in our school system feel safer that there is a police officer assigned to most of our high schools,” he said. “I would definitely tell you that parents feel more comfortable with a police officer assigned to our high schools.”

Vitti also talked with BridgeDetroit Wednesday about the district’s next fiscal budget, curtailed summer school plans and millions in district funding headed for approval by state lawmakers.

Up to 100 DPSCD staff members were told in March that their positions, paid for in part with COVID aid, may be cut or consolidated by the end of the school year as the district finalizes its 2023-24 budget. Most affected are support staffers including paraprofessionals, building substitutes, college transition advisors and deans of culture. 

Eliminating positions like college transition advisors, school culture facilitators and kindergarten paraprofessionals is expected to save DPSCD $7.4 million. The school board will hold a public hearing and vote to finalize next year’s budget on June 13. 

Vitti is giving employees whose jobs will be eliminated an option to stay in the district by transferring into a different role. As of Wednesday, 90% of school culture facilitators and paraprofessionals have opted to move to new positions.

“That was our commitment, to keep hourly folks employed,” he said. 

Vitti said the upcoming summer school offerings will focus on course recovery for grades 8-12 for students behind in reading, math, science and core classes. The district also will offer a k-12 program for special needs students. 

DPSCD needs $3 million to $5 million to provide the type of expanded summer school program that it offered during COVID. The dollars allowed more school buildings to offer summer school and enrichment programming. And, it could be on the way. DPSCD is anticipating a one-time $94.4 million payment from the state of Michigan toward literacy-related programs and initiatives to fulfill a state agreement tied to a 2020 settlement from a literacy lawsuit.

The funding appears likely to make it into the 2024 fiscal year budget that Whitmer and leaders in the Democratic-led Legislature are expected to complete work on next month. The governor proposed the funding in the executive budget she released in February. Both the House and Senate included the funding in their own budget bills approved earlier this month.

“If the literacy lawsuit money is funded then we will bring back the kind of expanded summer program that we had during the COVID years,” he said. 

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *