A member of Detroit Superintendent Nikolai Vitti’s finance team resigned suddenly on Thursday after officials discovered that $6.5 million worth of state reimbursements were likely never submitted in a paperwork snafu over the summer.
District officials said that Michael Bridges, a deputy executive director in finance for the Detroit Public Schools Community District, quit after Vitti accused him, and two others, of failing to submit an application for state funds that were owed to the district. Vitti had threatened to discipline the officials.
The error won’t affect current students because the problem relates to the old Detroit Public Schools, which exists only to pay down legacy debt and no longer runs schools.
The old district was replaced last year by the Detroit Public Schools Community District, which should not be affected by the error.
The error, however, could affect how quickly old district can pay off its debts and it represents a black eye for a district that was just returned to a local school board after years under the control of state-appointed emergency managers.
At least one school board member was furious to learn what happened.
“This is a major faux pas and impactful error!” the school board member, LaMar Lemmons, wrote in an angry email to Vitti and other board members that was obtained by Chalkbeat.
Lemmons’ email came in response to a note from Vitti on Monday to the board that explained the situation. In that note, which was part of the email chain, Vitti wrote:
The state of Michigan reimburses districts for lost debt millage funds, as part of Public Act 86. In order to qualify for these funds, school districts must submit required documentation to the state by August 15th. I learned today that the required documentation for Detroit Public Schools was not received by the state. Apparently, the forms were provided to the former CFO in the spring but not completed. At this point, Detroit Public Schools is not eligible for the $6.5 million-dollar reimbursement from the state. After speaking with state officials, the available funds have already been disbursed to other qualifying entities. However, we will continue to petition the state to receive the reimbursement.
Lemmons, according to the email chain, demanded an explanation, which Vitti provided Thursday, putting the blame on the district’s former chief financial officer:
As a follow up to this issue and to address your request of a breakdown of what occurred, please note that, ultimately, the responsibility to submit the paperwork fell on then-CFO Marios Demetriou and two Executive Directors in Finance, Delores Brown and specifically Michael Bridges. In the transition between [former interim Superintendent Alycia] Meriweather and I in early June, Mrs. Meriweather was informed through the Michigan superintendent listserve that the reimbursement form was due. Then CFO Demetriou informed us that he would handle and submit the paperwork. Then CFO was reminded that it was due through a Michigan chief officer list serve. He requested that Ms. Brown and Mr. Bridges have our outside financial advisors (PFM) complete the paperwork and return it to him. Mr. Bridges had the form completed by PFM and stated that he provided it to the then-CFO. However, there is no record of Mr. Bridges providing the information to then-CFO Demetriou for signature nor does the outgoing CFO recall the final stages of this process. In the transition between Mr. Demetriou/Senior Staff and Mr. Saunders/Mr. Vidito, there was no mention or records regarding the need to submit the reimbursement paperwork. We will be taking disciplinary action with those in Finance who are still employed by the district. In addition, please note that this reimbursement does not have a direct impact on DPSCD’s finances or day to day operations. It impacts the repayment of long-term DPS legacy debt. With that said, this is unacceptable. Disciplinary action will be taken and we will continue to proactively work with the Treasury to obtain the reimbursement.
Vitti did not specify what disciplinary actions would be taken.
Before Thursday, both Bridges and Brown were employed by the Detroit Public Schools Community District. According to the district website, Bridges’ portfolio included General Ledger, Financial Reporting & Purchase Card.
Demetriou, who is now an Assistant Superintendent in the Ann Arbor school district, did not respond to a request for comment, but earlier in the day on Thursday, Bridges questioned Vitti’s version of events.
“I wouldn’t say I’m responsible,” Bridges said, when Chalkbeat reached him in his office on Thursday.
When told Vitti specifically stated he has no record of Bridges ever submitting the paperwork back to Demetriou, Bridges said, “I can’t concur with that.”
Bridges said a possible reason there is no record is because he would typically print out any forms Demetriou was meant to sign and send them to him via the internal mailing system.
“I would have likely walked it down to his inbox, and if he had any questions he would have followed up with me,” he said.
A short while later, Bridges quit, Vitti said.
A spokesman for the state education department declined to comment.