The Detroit school board to vote on adding three years to superintendent Vitti’s contract

The Detroit school board to vote on adding three years to superintendent Vitti’s contract

The Detroit school board will vote Tuesday on whether to extend Superintendent Nikolai Vitti’s contract until 2025, which would make him one of the longest-serving school chiefs in recent district history.
Vitti is currently in the fourth year of his contract, which expires in 2022. If approved, the contract extension would go into effect immediately.
Vitti currently earns $312,000 a year. For the 2021-22 school year – the fifth and final year of his contract – his salary will increase to $322,000. As part of the proposed contract amendment, on July 1, 2022, his salary would increase based on the percentage of union pay raises.
The board action would signal confidence in Vitti’s efforts to turn around one of the lowest performing school districts in the nation. The proposal also would underscore the board’s desire for leadership stability as the COVID-19 pandemic upends traditional schooling for nearly 50,000 district students.
“The most important thing that DPSCD can offer our parents, students and teachers today, in the midst of this pandemic, is stability,” board President Iris Taylor said in a statement. “Detroit’s children and families deserve stable leadership and a plan to complete the transformation of the district. The amendment to Dr. Vitti’s contract aims to keep us aggressively engaged in the DPSCD reform work.”
Superintendents of other large school districts also have been awarded longer contracts in recent months, including two-year extensions in Tennessee, Georgia, and New York. Last year, the Newark school board granted its superintendent a two-year extension after holding the position for one year.
Vitti said he is adamant about building on the work he’s done.
“The work has not been easy but I have taken pride in the accomplishments we have achieved thus far. More importantly, the work is not complete,” he said. “My commitment and goal is to completely stabilize the district before I leave and place it in the position to be the best urban school district in the country.”
District spokesperson Chrystal Wilson said the board began discussing the contract extension in early spring, but those discussions were tabled due to the pandemic.
Prominent Detroit leaders supported the decision to keep Vitti at the helm.
Sheila Cockrel, who heads the civic engagement organization CitizenDetroit, said Vitti has done an “extraordinary” job of leading the district in light of the pandemic.
“I think it’s a very wise move on the part of the school board. I’m very glad to hear it,” the former Detroit City Council member said. “There’s been so much instability for so long. It’s great for the children of Detroit and the city of Detroit.”
Greg Handel, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s vice president of education and talent, has partnered with the district on college access initiatives and supports Vitti.
“He’s made big progress across the board,” he said. “The financial situation has stabilized. The enrollment has stabilized.”
Yet some believe the announcement’s timing during the pandemic is inappropriate.
“Students are suffering. We have so many different problems right now. Why would you even think about a raise for the superintendent and a contract extension at this time?” said longtime activist Helen Moore.
LaMar Lemmons, a former school board president, said the board shouldn’t have made the decision without incoming member Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, a state representive who will begin her four-year term in 2021. Gay-Dagnogo won a seat on the board in a tightly contested race last month.
“It is the type of action that leads a district into financial and cultural malaise,” Lemmons said.
Gay-Dagnogo questioned the board’s action.
“Why is there a rush, during COVID, when schools are virtual, when schools are out,” she said. “What message does it send to the teachers, parents, and otherwise?”
She added that decisions affecting the district’s future should be made by elected school board members in 2021 with community input. “It’s disappointing,” she said.
In 2017, a newly elected school board hired Vitti to run the Detroit Public Schools Community District. He was the first superintendent brought on after the district emerged from years of state control.
Several state-appointed emergency managers ran the district from 2009 to 2016. It was a tumultuous period marked by teacher pay cuts and school closures.
The new Detroit school district was created in 2016 as part of a legislative solution to the debt that had crushed Detroit Public Schools. The original district still exists, but solely to collect taxes and pay off millions in legacy debt. The new district exists solely to educate students.
In the last three years, Vitti and the school board have worked collaboratively. Board members Sonya Mays and Misha Stallworth, who were re-elected in November, rated Vitti well in a Chalkbeat candidate survey.
Vitti and the board have delivered on some promises to reform the district: improvements in academic performance, reduction of chronic student absenteeism, reduction of teacher vacancies, increased teacher pay, increased enrollment, and expanded arts programming. In October, the Detroit Financial Review Commission released the district from its oversight, the first time in nearly a decade the district could operate without the state’s financial monitoring.
Yet critics argue school officials haven’t done enough to improve academic achievement. Most recently, the district was scrutinized for reopening school buildings during the pandemic and a lack of preparedness for full-scale virtual learning.
Last month, Vitti and the board halted in-person learning until at least January due to the growing number of COVID-19 cases across the city.
Before the building closures, about 25% of students were learning in person. Vitti has been a strong proponent of in-person learning.
Challenges remain for Vitti and the school board during this unprecedented academic year. They must combat low student attendance and engagement, continued challenges with online learning, and pandemic-induced budget realities that could threaten jobs.
Vitti and school board members discussed plans to continue efforts to improve the district during a board study session last month. Those efforts include potentially offering a hybrid learning option in the 2021-22 school year, improving college and career readiness for high schoolers, and providing additional professional development opportunities for educators.
The Detroit school board will vote on the superintendent’s contract extension during Tuesday’s virtual board meeting, which begins at 5:30 p.m. Follow the link for details on how to join the meeting.

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