Detroit Schools Chief Not 'Apologetic' as District Recruits Students From Shuttered Charters

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Enrollment in the Detroit Public Schools Community District is expected to rise by about 3,000 students for the 2017-18 school year, but that's only because the Education Achievement Authority is disbanding and its schools—and most of its students—are returning to the Detroit district.

The district, which now has about 45,000 students, expects to lose 1,000 students for the 2017-18 school year—similar to enrollment losses in previous years. And it expects about 1,000 EAA students won't join the district even when their schools return. The EAA enrolls fewer than 5,000 students.

The enrollment picture makes the appearance of Nikolai Vitti, the district's new superintendent, at a student recruitment fair this afternoon all the more significant.

Vitti attended a small fair at Woodward Academy, one of a handful of charter schools in the Detroit area that are closing at the end of this school year.

"This type of outreach and engagement is precisely what we need to do more frequently to bring students back to our district," Vitti said.

The fair took place just a couple of hours before the district held a public hearing to go over its budget for upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1. It was also before a regular meeting of the school board.

The fair included representatives from schools that are in the general vicinity of Woodward, which is located at 951 E. Lafayette, near the downtown area.

By the time Vitti arrived, there were few parents in attendance, though officials said more attended earlier during the two-hour fair.

The closure of charter schools in the city, Vitti said, provides an opportunity to pitch district programs and its wraparound services.

He did that later when he had a chance to talk to Judy Lewis, who lives a three-minute walking distance from Woodward Academy near downtown. Her granddaughter, who lives with her during the year, is wrapping up her kindergarten year in the district.

"We have the Montessori program," Vitti said, noting a new program that the district rolled out for the current school year. "Did you check out Spain (Elementary)?" he asked her.

Lewis had said earlier that there's one thing that's most important to her.

"For me, the decision is going to be location, location, location," she said. She reiterated that later to Vitti. Spain Elementary is on Beaubien near Mack.

Charter schools, Vitti said, "are really not offering something that's uniquely different than traditional public schools."

It was the seventh fair district officials have been to in attempts to recruit both parents and teachers from the charter schools that are closing. The district was represented last week at a parent and talent expo at Taylor International Academy, a Southfield charter school that closed abruptly amid financial problems.

Vitti said the district is also planning a future recruitment fair for parents at all of the charters that are closing.

He said he has no qualms about recruiting parents as their schools shutter.

“This is competition,” Vitti said. “We’re not going to be passive. We’re not going to be apologetic.”

It’s also personal for him. Vitti and his wife have four children and he has said he intends to enroll them in DPSCD schools, provided they find the right fit.

“I went to Burton the other day and it’s definitely on the list,” Vitti said several minutes after saying the same to the Burton principal, who had a table set up at the fair.

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Meanwhile, the district's budget for the 2017-18 school year includes revenues of $710 million and expenditures of $706 million, leaving the district with a surplus of more than $4 million.

It assumes a $99 per student increase in state funding, and enrollment of nearly 48,000 students.

Marios Demetriou, the district’s deputy superintendent of finance and operations, said the budget allows the district to meet all of its obligations to vendors and employees.

“We’re balancing the budget on realistic assumptions,” Demetriou said.

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