Eight months after hundreds of Detroit teachers made national headlines by calling in sick to draw attention to deplorable conditions like rodents and buckling floors in public schools, city officials today announced that they’ve spent $2.5 million to get most city schools into tip-top shape ahead of the start of classes next week.
At a press conference at the elite Bates Academy in northwest Detroit, Mayor Mike Duggan and school officials said that all but eight of the 94 school buildings in the state’s largest district are now in full compliance with city health and safety codes.
“Here at Bates, there were ceiling tiles missing, floor tiles missing, plumbing problems, heating problems, window problems, electrical problems,” Duggan said recalling that when he first heard about the issues in the wake of teacher demonstrations, he discovered that the district had been doing its own inspections and had let repairs lapse in the face of financial distress.
Now, with many repairs done, he said, the city will continue to invite teachers, students and parents to post complaints about possible code violations on the city’s website and promised a robust response.
“This is not something where we’re saying this is done, we pat ourselves on the back and it’s over,” Duggan said. “We are going to be diligent to make sure every single building in this city is safe for our children.”
The remaining eight schools have roof issues that the district expects to find contractors to repair in coming weeks.
Monday was the first day of school for teachers in the Detroit school district. Students are due back for class on Tuesday.
Interim Superintendent Alycia Meriweather says she’s hopeful that enrollment declines will be reversed this year in the face of new programs like a new tuition-free Montessori program.
“The best strategy is to be the best,” she said. “When you’re striving to be the best, you don’t worry about people siphoning [off students] … Facilities being upgraded is a step in that direction. Looking at our academic plan is a step on that direction. Offering new innovative programs is a step in that direction.”
Meriweather acknowledged that with just days to go before the start of school, the district is still trying to fill as many as 200 open teaching positions. It plans to hold teacher job fairs next week and the week after.
New state law has made Detroit the only district in the state that can hire uncertified teachers but Meriweather says that’s not an option she’s considering.
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.