Who makes what

The six-figure bosses, the schools with the highest (and lowest) pay —  and other facts about who’s making what in Detroit schools

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit schools superintendent Nikolai Vitti leads a meeting in a conference room adjacent to his office in Detroit's Fisher Building in August, 2017.

Detroit’s main school district has undergone dramatic change in recent months. A new superintendent, Nikolai Vitti, took over in May and has been shaking up the district — sending longtime administrators packing, recruiting high-level advisors he knew from his years running schools in Florida and moving educators out of the central office and into classrooms.

To get a sense of how the district’s staff has shifted since Vitti’s arrival, Chalkbeat requested, under the Freedom of Information Act, the full district payrolls for June 1 and October 1.

The two lists are both based on budgets that predate Vitti but they reflect changes he implemented as well as other factors like the 11 schools that returned to the main district following the dissolution in July of the state-run recovery district.

Here’s some of the things we found when we compared the two salary lists:

 

1. The return of the Education Achievement Authority added hundreds of teachers and administrators to the district payroll.

Number of employees, June: 6,125

Number of employees, October: 6,348

 

2. There were more people making $125,000 or more on October 1 than there were in June.

Number making more than $125,000, June: 29

Number making more than $125,000, October: 36

 

3. These were the five people making the highest salaries in June:

Nikolai Vitti, Superintendent, $295,000

Alycia Meriweather, Deputy Superintendent, $202,500

Marios Demetriou, Deputy Superintendent, Finance, $185,000

James Baker, Deputy Superintendent, Operations, $180,000

Carol Weaver, Executive Director, Office of Community Schools, $160,000

To read the full list of people making $125,000 or more in June and October, click here.

 

4. These five were making the highest salaries in October:

Nikolai Vitti, Superintendent, $295,000

Luis Solano, Chief Operating Officer, $195,000

Iranetta Wright, Deputy Superintendent, $190,000

Jenice Mitchell Ford, Lead General Counsel, $185,000

Alycia Meriweather, Deputy Superintendent, $180,000

To read the full list of people making $125,000 or more in June and October, click here.

 

 

5. There are fewer people in the Central office.

We made a list of all salaried employees on the payroll who were not assigned to a specific school and removed people like social workers and psychologists who work in multiple schools. Here’s how June and October compare:

Number of salaried district employees not assigned to a school, June: 237

Number of salaried district employees not assigned to a school, October: 197

Click HERE for a side-by-side comparison of employees by department in June and October.

 

6. As the number of teachers went up, average teacher salary went down.

A new contract negotiated with the city’s teachers union will give most Detroit teachers a pay raise in January so average teacher salaries could be on the way up soon. Over the summer, however, the influx of teachers from the Education Achievement Authority — and the retirements of highly-paid senior teachers — meant average teacher salaries went down overall between June and October. Former EAA teachers came into the main district with lower salaries because they were given no more than two years of experience credit when their schools returned to the main district. (Some took major pay cuts — others chose to leave).The current contract pays teachers between $35,682 and $66,264 based on experience and credentials. Heres how average teacher salaries changed between June and October: (Note: averages are based on people with the job title “teacher.” Educators or specialists with other titles were not included in the analysis). 

Average teacher salary, June: $58,473 (2,317 teachers)

Average teacher salary, October: $56,885 (2,595 teachers)

 

7. The schools that had the highest and lowest average teacher salaries changed between June and October.

Click here to see average teacher salary in each building in June and October, side by side.

 

8. These schools had the district’s highest average teacher salaries in June and October:

June highest average teacher salaries  Average salary October highest average teacher salaries   Average salary
Nichols Elementary School $63,532 Bennett Elementary School $64,357
Bennett Elementary School $62,980 Davis Aerospace $63,449
Golightly Career/Tech Center $62,920 Nichols Elementary $63,293

 

9. These schools had the district’s lowest average teacher salaries in June and October (Note: the four schools with the lowest salaries in October were all in the EAA):

June lowest average teacher salaries Average salary October lowest average teacher salaries   Average salary
Ben Carson HS of Sci&Med $51,081 Diann Banks Williamson Education Center $45,510
Detroit Lions Academy $50,938 Law Elementary $44,098
Mason Elementary School $48,537 Brenda Scott MS $43,867
Diann Banks Williamson Education Center $46,579 Bethune Academy  $41,480
Ofc College & Careers $46,175 Central High School $40,142

10. There’s a lot to learn by looking at the full (sortable) list of what everyone — from principals to bus drivers to lunch aides  — are making. We left off the names to protect employee privacy.

Read the full DPSCD payroll in June. Sort by salary, job title or job location.

Here’s the full DPSCD payroll in October. Sort by salary, job title or job location.

 

School and church partnership

Detroit district aims for faith-based partnerships for every school to support student needs

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti surrounded by religious and district leaders wearing new "Got Faith?" shirts.

Each Detroit public school might soon have its own church, synagogue, mosque, temple, chapel, or parish as a partner.

The district on Thursday announced an initiative to connect every district school with a faith-based community partner to help with academic support, student basic needs, and personal and career development, among other services.

The district is now trying to determine which schools have a defined partnership with a religious institution, but estimates that 25 to 30 percent of schools already do. Sharlonda Buckman, senior executive director of family and community engagement, said that the district hopes that, by the end of the year, every one of its 106 schools “has a religious partner working with them in tandem toward the goal of helping our children achieve.”

The program was announced at a press conference at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art in Midtown, attended by educators, school board members, and invited guests.

“It doesn’t surprise me when I look around the room and see our religious leaders, because you guys, for a long time, have been investing in our children and our people, and it’s been an informal effort,” Buckman said. “You’ve worked with a number of our schools across the district, so today we recognize that we don’t need to do it informally anymore — we need to make this a formal part of how we move this district forward.”

The district is not unique in its approach: church-school partnerships are common across the country and in the state. The national partnering organization Kids Hope USA is based near Holland, Michigan. Supporters believe that stronger faith-school ties will not only improve local support for schools, but also help provide vital services for children and a more stable personal and family foundation upon which learning could take place.

District leaders “cannot lift our children up to their full potential by themselves,” Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said at the press conference. “We need help in that work.”

The district is looking to the faith-based partners to provide services such as tutoring, coaching, chaperoning; deliver before and after school support; donate uniforms and other goods; and highlight teachers at their institutions through announcements and bulletins.

R. Khari Brown, a professor of sociology at Wayne State, said the faith community is already deeply ingrained in Detroit in a variety of ways.

“There are a lot of community centers that closed down over the years in the city, and most churches in the city provide some sort of programming,” he said. “They provide backpacks and school supplies, so [the partnership] makes sense.”

Religion is also a large part of the culture of many African Americans, he said, and a significant force in a district where 81 percent of the students were black in 2016-2017.

“Most African Americans want their churches to be involved on the ills that disproportionately affect black people.” he said.

While other communities might balk at such intermingling of church and state, Brown said he believes that it is a “non issue” in this case because the religious institutions are not receiving money from the district.

The ACLU of Michigan said it had no comment at this time but that the organization hopes to “continue to learn more” about the district’s initiative.

Vitti said a more explicit district-faith community partnership could provide both protection and support for Detroit’s children.

“What I’m talking about is developing a stronger safety net to ensure that what students are not receiving in homes, what students are not receiving in school, can be addressed through the faith-based community,” Vitti said. “When we go back to when the city was at its peak, we worked together as a team to lift children up. When children fell through the cracks, there was a safety net to catch them and lift them back up. That happened through the school system, through the churches, the synagogues.”

Vitti said the initiative is part of his larger effort to align schools and the community more closely. Since starting in his position as superintendent in May of last year, he has been pressing programs like the parent academy.

The academy will provide parents with lessons on subjects like what to ask during parent-teacher conferences, how to create stronger readers, how to fill out FAFSA paperwork, and even how to print a resume. Vitti said most of all, it would empower parents to pursue educational goals for their children, even if they weren’t the best students themselves.

“Every parent knows education is important, but parents don’t know how to navigate the system often, and they feel hypocritical when they push their children when they know they didn’t do well in school,” he said.  

Vitti said he envisions a time when faith-based institutions could house some of the parent services.

He said he also sees the faith community working side by side with the district’s 5,000 role models initiative. The program is recruiting volunteers to work with middle and high school African American and Hispanic students, and plans to have sponsors in each school to work with students daily, taking them on field trips and providing an open line of communication.

getting in

Detroit district moves beyond test scores for admittance to elite high schools like Cass Tech and Renaissance

The Detroit school district is changing its application process for students hoping for a spot at selective high schools like Cass Technical High School.

Detroit’s main school district is changing the way it decides which students gain entry to the city’s elite high schools.

Students applying to Cass Technical High School, Renaissance High School and two other selective high schools will no longer be judged primarily on the results of a single exam.

Instead, an admissions team comprised of teachers and staff from the schools, as well as administrators in the district’s central office, will use a score card that gives students points in various categories.

Students can get up to 40 points for their score on the district’s high school placement exam, up to 30 points for their grades and transcripts, up to 20 points for an essay and up to 10 points for a letter of recommendation. Students already enrolled in the district will also get 10 bonus points that will give them an edge over students applying from charter and suburban schools.

That is a change over past years when  students with the highest test scores largely got automatic admissions to their top-choice schools. Other factors like grades, essays, student interviews, and letters of recommendations were typically only considered during an appeals process for students who didn’t make the first-round cut.

“You can imagine that there was a great deal of subjectivity to that, and if you’re a student who might not be a good test taker, you were at a disadvantage,” said Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, who, as a dyslexic, said he was not a strong test-taker in school.

“I can empathize with that gifted student whose intelligence is not always identified by a standardized test,” he said.

Vitti said he hopes the new process “will have more of a quality control … It’s a consistent process to ensure that we’re being equitable and fair when students are being enrolled in these schools.”

The district’s decision to reduce the role of testing in admission decisions mirrors a trend across the country where college admissions offices are increasingly moving beyond SAT and ACT scores to give more weight to grades and other factors in admissions decisions.

Cities like New York and Boston are reviewing their use of test-based admissions for their elite high schools in the face of an onslaught of criticism that the tests discriminate against students of color and students who come from poor families and reinforce already prevalent segregation in the districts.

“Tests tend to favor kids who come from backgrounds and whose families have the wherewithal to focus on test prep,” said Bob Schaeffer, the public education director at FairTest, an organization critical of schools’ reliance on test scores to make crucial decisions.

In addition to changing the admission criteria for Detroit’s selective high schools, the district is also for the first time requiring all district 8th-graders to take the exam. In the past, only students who applied to the top schools took those tests.

“Not every school emphasized the exam application process, so it would be dependent on an individual parent’s ability to navigate the system,” Vitti said.

Only about half of the district’s 8th graders took the exam last year. Data provided by the district show that several schools had just a handful of students take the test while others had dozens of test-takers. (See the full list of test-takers from district schools here.)

Vitti hopes that requiring 8th graders to take the test and encouraging more of them to write essays and gather letters of recommendation to apply will help prepare them to apply to college four years later.

“We’re creating a culture of college readiness,” he said.

The district is also using the exam to survey students about their career ambitions and plans to make high school programming decisions based on their answers, Vitti said, adding that high schools will also use the exam results to determine which students could benefit from advanced classes and which ones need more help.

Some parents and educators say they welcome efforts to make the application process more equitable.

Hope Gibson, the dean of students at Bethune Elementary-Middle School on the city’s west side, said students were excited when the school encouraged them to apply to the selective schools.

“They feel like we believe in them,” she said.

The changes, however, have put some families on edge as they worry about how the new approach will affect students’ chances at landing a spot in their first-choice school.

Aliya Moore, a parent leader at Paul Robeson Malcolm X Academy, a K-8 school that typically sends roughly half of its graduates to Cass and Renaissance, said parents had trouble getting information about the process and have been frustrated with Vitti and the school officials he brought to Detroit with him from his last job running schools in Jacksonville, Florida.

“I don’t like these new people coming here and criticizing our old ways,” said Moore, who graduated from Cass Tech in 1998 and has a daughter enrolled there now. “The district is now full of changes. Some are good, but some are like, if something is not broken, why are you trying to fix it? We support Dr. Vitti. We have nothing negative to say. But when you come in and you just totally dismantle what was, even if it was working, we don’t understand that.”

Among Moore’s concerns is the district’s use of  a new test this year, which makes it more difficult for the school to help students prepare. Also, this year’s test is being administered online while prior tests were on paper.

Vitti said the district is using a new test this year because last year’s exam wasn’t an option.

“The license expired years ago and the district was illegally using it,” he said.

The new test will be online, he said, though students with disabilities and other students whose parents request it will be allowed to take the test on paper.

The Detroit district now has four examination schools including Cass, Renaissance and Martin Luther King Jr. High School. The district this year converted Southeastern High School into an exam school after Southeastern returned to the district from five years in the Education Achievement Authority, a now-dissolved state-run recovery district.