Detroit school officials launching conversation with public about the district’s $500 million building problem

The Detroit school district has some massive facility needs and no easy fixes. That’s one of the reasons district officials are beginning a series of meetings Thursday to educate the public and get their input on possible solutions.

At these meetings, to be held in high schools across the district, the public will hear about the physical conditions of buildings. They’ll hear information about how buildings are being used, as well as information about the financial challenges facing the district.

An audit completed last year found the district had more than $500 million in immediate facility needs — a price tag expected to grow to $1.4 billion by 2023 if the district does nothing.

The meetings come on the heels of another set of meetings wrapping up tonight that the district launched last month. They sought public input on a sweeping set of proposals.

Chalkbeat was the first to unveil the details of those proposals, which include requiring students at two high schools — King and Communication and Media Arts — to take an exam to be admitted, moving district headquarters out of the historic Fisher Building, and moving students and programs at a number of district schools.

Feedback from those earlier meetings has already prompted changes from the original proposal. For instance, King would still be converted into an exam school, but students who live within a mile of the school would be able to attend without having to take an exam. This addresses criticism from some who argued that neighborhood students should still have a shot at attending the school.

There’s also been a slight shift in the plan to move students from CMA to the building now occupied by Ludington Middle School. The plan had been to move the Ludington students to Charles Wright Academy. Now, though, the district says the Ludington students will be able to remain at their school until they finish the eighth grade. Once the existing students have graduated, younger students who would have attended Ludington would instead go to Emerson Elementary-Middle School. It’s unclear when CMA would move to the Ludington building. The district is considering several options, one of which includes having CMA share the building with students in grades 7-8 next fall, while other options involve phasing in the CMA move.

There are no proposals on the table for the meetings that begin Thursday night. Superintendent Nikolai Vitti has said the goal is to help the community understand the building conditions and set the stage for a broader conversation about how to address the problems.

Vitti has long been critical of the lack of attention paid to the district’s buildings during the years emergency managers were in charge. When he interviewed for the job in 2017, he told reporters — after he had toured some schools — that he was enraged “to see that our children have to go to schools where there are holes in the wall, tiles that are not replaced. It’s unconscionable and it’s a clear indication of the injustice our children face here.”

These are the dates and locations of the 11 upcoming meetings. All of the meetings take place from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

  • Thursday (Dec. 5) at Detroit Collegiate Preparatory Academy @ Northwestern, 2200 W. Grand Boulevard
  • Monday, Dec. 9 at Cody High School, 18445 Cathedral Street, Detroit, MI 48228
  • Wednesday, Dec. 11 at Henry Ford High School, 20000 Evergreen Road
  • Thursday, Dec. 12 at Pershing High School, 18875 Ryan Road
  • Monday, Dec. 16 at Mumford High School, 17525 Wyoming St.
  • Wednesday, Jan. 8 at Denby High School, 12800 Kelly Road
  • Thursday, Jan. 9 at Martin Luther King Jr., Senior High School, 3200 E. Lafayette
  • Monday, Jan. 13 at East English Village Preparatory High School, 5020 Cadieux
  • Wednesday, Jan. 15 at Central High School, 2425 Tuxedo St.
  • Wednesday, Jan. 22 at Western International High School, 1500 Scotten St
  • Thursday, Jan. 23 at Osborn High School, 11600 E. Seven Mile Road