Abandoned schools sit empty, gathering dust or becoming magnets for crime across the Detroit district, but schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said at the school board meeting Tuesday that he has plans to change all that.
“Next month, our board will receive a recommendation for a partner to review our facilities which will allow us to understand the cost of bringing each of our school buildings up to code,” he said. “This will allow us to understand how to best utilize our resources, engage the community about consolidation and building new buildings and ensuring … we have schools in every neighborhood.
“It’s been interesting in taking this position, the number of people who think because this is a government entity, we should be selling our property at the lowest price,” he added.
Though Vitti has recently set his sights on selling unneeded facilities at higher prices, one building sale is still causing a local educator major problems.
Kyle Smitley, the co-founder of Detroit Prep and the Detroit Achievement Academy, signed a purchase agreement on July 18 for the former Anna M. Joyce Elementary School, which closed in 2009.
The building’s current owner is a company run by Dennis Kefallinos, a major Detroit landlord. He bought the vacant Joyce school from the district for $600,000 in June 2014. This summer, Smitley agreed to pay him $750,000 for the building.
But because of a quirk in the initial deed, the agreement has to go through the Detroit Public Schools Community District, which has the right to reject some sales. Vitti halted the Detroit Prep deal, telling Smitley in an email that the district would cease making any property sales while his team assesses the district’s holdings and needs.
Although the district doesn’t own the building, the district would still profit from the sale, since an anti-flip clause would force Smitley to pay $75,000 to the district, which she already agreed to do.
Despite the promise of a profit for the district, it’s still an ongoing issue – Smitley spoke at the school board meeting about the trouble she continues to face trying to close the deal.
“We currently have 80 students and we’re looking for a larger space to accommodate our growth,” she said.
“We cannot obtain the title without extensive, costly litigation,” she added. “If DPSCD did choose to sell the building, they would obtain at least $75,000 and we have offered a further financial offer to settle the issue.”
Also in the meeting, Vitti spoke about raising wages beyond one-time bonuses for teachers and administrators as part of a plan to lure new teachers and better retain the ones they currently have.
One factor working against hiring teachers is their new contract, signed this summer, which offers educators who come in from outside the district just two years of salary credit regardless of their experience. Vitti would like to see that provision of the contract relaxed.
He also proposed creating a focus group to look into the salaries of principals and administrators.
“We are creating a focus group for principals with a focus on the size of the school, what type of school it is … and looking into creating salaries for administrators that will retain them moving forward,” he said.