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