News Story

Even With $500 Million Borrow-and-Spend, Detroit Schools Violates Building Codes

Without accountability, even half a billion doesn't go far

More than a dozen Detroit public schools have been cited for health and safety violations despite receiving millions of borrowed taxpayer dollars to improve facilities.

In 2009, Detroit voters agreed to impose a $500.5 million tax increase on property owners to improve Detroit Public Schools buildings. In response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the city of Detroit confirmed that at least 14 schools violated property maintenance codes or zoning ordinances in 2015. The violations existed despite the district having spent millions of new bond debt to construct brand-new buildings or improve existing structures.

In August, school officials confirmed that the entire $500.5 million has been spent.

The Detroit school district conducted school inspections in January, February and March 2016.

Violations ranged from minor (like rooms that needed painting) to significant (rodent problems and blocked emergency exits).

The schools with the most severe violations were Denby High School, J.R. King Academy, Northwestern (Detroit Collegiate Prep), and Marcus Garvey Academy.

Denby received $20 million from the millage in 2009, yet a January 2016 inspection cited violations for rodent and insect problems, and water damage, among other problems.

J.R. King Academy received $12.8 million in 2009, but inspections earlier this year found inoperable fire escapes, among other issues. The school also still had violations upon re-inspection and was also investigated in February 2016 by the Detroit health department for potential health-related violations, which were fixed by April 26.

Northwestern (Detroit Collegiate Prep) received $12.6 million in 2010, yet had significant water damage, defective bathroom fixtures, and missing handrails.

Marcus Garvey Academy got $12 million from the facilities bond but was found to have a rodent and insect infestation, leaking radiators, and inoperable lighting, to name a few issues. Brown Academy also had a rodent problem and was investigated by the city health department, while the Beckham Academy had a cockroach infestation.

The district used $58.4 million from the bond issue to build East English Village Preparatory Academy in 2012, yet the school still had violations in 2016. Still other schools were built or redeveloped with the bond money and yet were cited for violations. They include the following: Earhart Elementary-Middle School, Martin Luther King, Jr. Senior High School; Gompers Elementary-Middle School; Munger Elementary-Middle School; and Mackenzie Elementary-Middle School.

The school district also spent $17.9 million of the bond money on summer camps in 2010. It spent another $5.2 million in 2011 on another summer program, according to documents obtained in the FOIA request.

The district did not return a request for comment.

Ben DeGrow, director of education policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said the violations are an example of mismanaged resources.

"Can anyone account for where half a billion dollars went, leaving so many school buildings in terrible disrepair? How much money was poured into a black hole?” he asked. “This is a tribute to a long legacy of massively mismanaged resources, with the needs of students getting anything but first consideration."

School/Amount received/Violations found:

    • Earhart Elementary-Middle School — $25,208,217 spent in 2009 for construction; water damage
    • East English Village Preparatory Academy — $58,401,583 spent in 2010; roof in need of repair; smoke device not working
    • M.L. King, Jr. Senior High School — $57,194,840 spent in 2009 (redeveloped in 2011); no school inspection report listed
    • Gompers Elementary-Middle School — $23,784,136 spent in 2009; water damaged flooring; inoperable and broken bathroom sinks, inoperable urinals; leaking toilet and faucet
    • Munger Elementary-Middle School — $29,102,183 spent in 2009; doors, windows needed replacement; playground lighting needed repairs; still had violations after re-inspection
    • Mackenzie Elementary-Middle School — $24,907,709 spent in 2009; broken glass; still had violations after re-inspection
    • J.R. King Academy — $12,847,850 spent in 2009 for renovations; needed painting; needed smoke and fire door repairs; drinking fountains in need of replacement; inoperable fire escapes; needed window repairs; still had violations after re-inspection
    • Bunche Preparatory Academy — $11,779,905 spent in 2010 for renovations; roofs needing repair; rooms needing painting; water damage; defective flooring; smoke and fire door repairs required; missing exit signs; still had violations after re-inspection
    • Denby High School — $20,301,548 spent in 2009 for renovations; rodent and insect problem; water-damaged ceiling; inoperable lighting fixtures and urinals; broken glass; broken doors; violations still present after re-inspection
    • Northwestern (Detroit Collegiate Prep) — $12,604,173 spent in 2010 for renovations; water damaged ceiling; in need of painting; defective floor covering; inoperable lighting; defective bathroom fixtures; missing handrails; in need of smoke and fire door repairs; elevators need restoration work; violations still found after re-inspection
    • Western International High School — $31,925,800 spent in 2009 for renovations; water damage; in need of painting and roof repair; leaking radiators; damaged emergency window
    • Marcus Garvey Academy — $12,167,585 spent in 2009 for renovations; rodent and insect problem; inoperable lighting; leaking radiators; ceiling leak; defective bathroom fixtures; problems present even after re-inspection
    • Brown Academy — $1,585,867 spent in 2010; rodent infestation; needed elevator restoration; lighting in need of replacement; rooms needing to be repainted; broken glass
    • Beckham Academy — $3,962,613 spent in 2009; cockroach infestation

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.