A $6.5 million mistake made during schools chief Nikolai Vitti’s transition last summer has prompted a new system for setting deadlines for the Detroit district.
Vitti plans to use the new strategy to prevent missed deadlines like the one the finance department mishandled in August when district staff failed to submit paperwork on time to receive a reimbursement from the state.
Vitti told Detroit school board members at a public meeting Tuesday night that his staff is working on a plan to put safeguards in place to prevent another costly error.
The mistake isn’t likely to affect the district’s 50,000 students because the money was owed to the old Detroit Public Schools, which was replaced in 2016 by the new Detroit Public Schools Community District. The old district has no schools or students and exists only to pay off debt.
“One thing we are planning to do is create an outline of deadlines … and the board would be made aware of those deadlines,” Vitti said. “That’s one kind of enhancement that would allow the board to monitor the submission of those kinds of documentation.”
The district submitted a request to the state Treasury Department that included legal arguments on why the state reimbursement should still be awarded. The request was made Sunday evening, and the district is now waiting for a response.
Board member LaMar Lemmons asked what response the district would give to former chief financial officer Marios Demetriou, who has vocally denied any blame.
“The former CFO has made allegations that this body has somehow harmed his reputation and I want to know what our posture and response is going to be to that,” Lemmons said.
In an email to the school board on Dec. 18, Vitti blamed the former CFO and his team, Michael Bridges and Delores Brown, for the error.
“The responsibility to submit the paperwork fell on then-CFO Marios Demetriou and two Executive Directors in Finance, Delores Brown and specifically Michael Bridges,” Vitti wrote.
However, Demetriou fired back this week, rejecting any blame for the mistake. He said the deadline was weeks after he had officially resigned, and that the paperwork was never given to him to sign and submit.
Demetriou, who is now assistant superintendent of finance and operations in the Ann Arbor school district, spoke to the board during the public comment, reading aloud from the letter by Chalkbeat had posted in earlier in the day.
“I hope that they are successful in getting the $6.5 million. It’ll be a shame if they can’t get it,” Demetriou said, after the meeting. “I hope they put all the safeguards that they need to put in place, and I hope they have highly qualified people who know all the deadlines and they abide by them.”
The board also approved a policy that allows the body to change the names of buildings that previously were named after living people, and the district plans to launch its master teacher initiative this week, interviewing and selecting teachers for the 52 open positions.