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Detroit schools face ballooning repair costs and no way to pay for them

Jun 25, 2018

 


Years of neglect have taken a terrible toll on school buildings in the Detroit Public Schools Community District.

The district has just completed a review of its facilities, and the result is stunning.

The cost to fix Detroit school buildings is $500 million. If the district doesn't address the problems soon, in just five years that cost will balloon into the billions.

Dr. Nikolai Vitti is the superintendent of DPSCD. He spoke with Stateside about the barriers the district is up against when it comes to fixing buildings, and his plans for addressing these issues. 

When Vitti first interviewed for the superintendent position a little over a year ago, he said was shocked by the deteriorating conditions of DPSCD buildings. He saw damaged roofs, holes in the walls, and windows and doors that could not open or close. 

So, the $500 million price tag does not surprise Vitti. 

“For those that have been working in the district for years, they’ve known that these conditions existed but frankly emergency managers didnt talk about it, didnt own it,” Vitti said. “Previous government structures at Lansing level didnt talk about it, didnt own it.”

When the state bailed out the Detroit school district in 2016, it allocated about $25 million for building improvements. The report found the improvements will actually cost $500 million, leaving a massive funding gap. Vitti said the district will begin by addressing the repairs they can afford. 

“We have identified a number of schools that have inadequate roofs, and we are making the investment over the summer, into the fall into those buildings, and I think that is something we can do immediately. So we are using the dollars that we have to address significant and immediate safety to live issues and making investments in areas where, again, we can see the greatest return on investment.”

Under state law, DPSCD cannot borrow money like other districts can, and local property taxes generated are still being used to pay off the legacy debt. 

“We will spend the dollars that we have, but this problem is not going away. And if we're truly committed as a state to offer strong traditional public education in Detroit, and we're serious about local control having a fair chance to repair the mistakes of emergency management, than you have to have a real conversation about infrastructure and funding,” Vitti said. 

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Sophie Sherry. 

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