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New Detroit District Looks to Hire First Permanent Superintendent

The Detroit school board has entered into contract negotiations with Nikolai Vitti to serve as the district's superintendent.

Vitti has led the Duval County school district in Jacksonville, Fla., since 2012. Duval County, the nation's 20th largest school system, has nearly three times as many students as Detroit —116,000 compared to 46,000.

While Detroit is a smaller district, the new job would bring Vitti closer to his roots: He grew up in the Detroit metropolitan area.

Not long ago, Detroit's enrollment rivaled Duval County's enrollment but the district has fallen on hard times.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation last summer that divided the Detroit school district into two separate systems: a new district tasked with educating public school students; and the old district left intact to pay off hundreds of millions of dollars in debt.

Sticking the old district with nearly $500 million in operating debt allows the Detroit schools to avoid bankruptcy. The change also allows the new district to devote more of its money to educating students.

Beginning contract negotiations with Vitti is the first major decision made by the new Detroit school board, whose members took office in January. The board and Vitti would face challenges aplenty as they try to slow hemorrhaging enrollment, halt near-constant administrative turnover and restore trust after a series of scandals.

Unsatisfied parents in Detroit have increasingly turned to charter schools, which now educate a majority of the public school students in the city.

About 52,000 of the city's public schools students, roughly 53 percent, attend charters, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

During his interview for the job, Vitti told school board members that he'd he'll help put charter schools out of business, the Detroit Free Press reported.

"We are going to put charter schools out of business. Why and how?" the newspaper reported. "We're going to offer a better product. If this is a market place, then we're going to compete."

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