Pay check

New Detroit superintendent: Detroit teachers deserve a pay raise (eventually)

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
On his first day as Detroit schools superintendent, Nikolai Vitti, with former interim superintendent Alycia Meriweather, greets principals at a teacher hiring fair at Martin Luther King Jr. High School.

On his first full day as Detroit’s new superintendent, Nikolai Vitti had this message for the city’s teachers: You deserve a pay raise.

“We can’t just talk about the value that we have with teachers. We have to pay them accordingly,” Vitti told reporters Tuesday on a busy first day that included radio interviews, meetings with district staff and sit-downs with school board members.

“The teaching job in Detroit is much harder than the teaching job in surrounding suburban districts and we have to pay to that level,” Vitti said.

Vitti made his remarks outside a hiring fair at Martin Luther King Jr. High School where district officials were hoping to fill hundreds of vacancies.

A persistent teacher shortage has saddled the district with overcrowded classrooms — some with as many as 40 to 50 kids — and with long-term substitutes who don’t have the credentials to effectively teach subjects like math and science.

It’s an issue that comes up repeatedly when Vitti talks to Detroit educators, he said.

“Time and time again, you’re hearing issues of too many vacancies, loss of prep time, too-large class sizes and we need to address that issue immediately,” said Vitti who noted that his first day included long talks with the district Human Resources director as well as leaders of the city teachers union to discuss teacher hiring.

Vitti’s immediate plans for addressing the shortage include trying to streamline the teacher hiring process. He’ll also be looking at ways to redirect teachers from administrative and support roles to get them back into classrooms.

But the key to recruiting and retaining teachers, he said, will be to focus on salaries.

“We have to become more competitive with pay,” he said. “I don’t think that’s going to be done immediately, at scale, but it’s something that I will be looking closely at in concert with the school board to look at what does our budget look like right now? Where are some opportunities to do things differently? To increase pay?

A pay raise is “not going to happen overnight,” he said. “But it’s something that we do have to think about long term if we’re going to recruit and retain teachers.”

The district is currently negotiating a contract with its teachers union. Union members have seen few pay raises in recent years as the district has struggled with financial difficulties.

Vitti officially took over the district Monday following a vote by the Financial Review Board, which oversees district finances. Here’s how he spent Tuesday, according to a district spokeswoman:

  • Dr. Vitti conducts morning  interviews
  • 8:30-11a.m. – Dr. Vitti meets with District leadership group. Dr. Vitti visits other DPSCD departments in the Fisher Building. Meets with DFT Representative
  • 11:30-1p.m. – (Lunch) One-on-one with Board Member
  • 1:30 -2p.m.  – School Tour – Golightly Education Center
  • 2-2:30p.m. – Open
  • 2:30-3p.m. School Tour King – New Add
  • 3:45 -4:15p.m. – Teacher Listening Session – King High School (20 teachers)
  • 4:30-5p.m. – DPSCD Teacher Fair – King High School
  • 5p.m.-6p.m. – One-on-one with Board Member
  • 6p.m. Opening Welcome – Academic Committee Meeting – King High School

Early investment

Foundations put $50 million behind effort to improve lives of young Detroit children

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
The heads of the Kresge and W.K. Kellogg foundations, Rip Rapson and La June Montgomery announce a $50 million investment to support the new Hope Starts Here framework.

The two major foundations behind the creation of a ten-year plan to improve the lives of Detroit’s youngest children are putting up $50 million to help put the plan into action.

As they unveiled the new Hope Starts Here framework Friday morning, the Kellogg and Kresge foundations announced they would each spend $25 million in the next few years to improve the health and education of children aged birth to 8 in the city.

The money will go toward upgrading early childhood education centers, including a new Kresge-funded comprehensive child care center that the foundation says it hopes to break ground on next year at a location that has not yet been identified.

Other foundation dollars will go toward a just-launched centralized data system that will keep track of a range of statistics on the health and welfare of young children, and more training and support for early childhood educators.

The announcement at Detroit’s Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History drew dozens of parents, educators and community leaders. Among them was Detroit Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti who said one of the major impediments to improving conditions for young children has been divisions between the various government and nonprofit entities that run schools, daycares and health facilities for young kids.

Vitti said the district would do its part to “to break down the walls of territorialism that has prevented this work from happening” in the past.

Watch the video of of the announcement here.

Detroit's future

In a city where 60 percent of young children live in poverty, a ten-year plan aims to improve conditions for kids

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn/Chalkbeat

A coalition of community groups led by two major foundations has a plan to change the fortunes of Detroit’s youngest citizens.

The Hope Starts Here early childhood partnership is a ten-year effort to tackle a list of bleak statistics about young children in Detroit:

  • More than 60% of Detroit’s children 0-5 live in poverty — more than in any of the country’s 50 largest cities;
  • 13% of Detroit babies are born too early, compared to nine percent nationally;
  • 13% of Detroit babies are born too small, compared to eight percent nationally;
  • Detroit has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country;
  • Nearly 30,000 of eligible young Detroiters have no access to high-quality early learning or child care options.
  • That translates to learning problems later on, including the 86.5% of Detroit third graders who aren’t reading at grade level.

Hope Starts Here spells out a plan to change that. While it doesn’t identify specific new funding sources or propose a dramatic restructuring of current programs, the effort led by the Kresge Foundation and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, names six “imperatives” to improving children’s lives.

Among them: Promoting the health, development and wellbeing of Detroit children; supporting their parents and caregivers; increasing the overall quality of early childhood programs and improving coordination between organizations that work with young kids. The framework calls for more funding to support these efforts through the combined investments of governments, philanthropic organizations and corporations.

Read the full framework here: