Three months after taking on one of the most daunting tasks in American education, Nikolai Vitti was having a fit over pizza — $340,000 worth of pizza.
Vitti, Detroit’s new school superintendent, had just discovered that the district had set aside that eye-popping sum of money last year to pay Domino’s Pizza for what he assumed were hundreds of thousands of slices for parties in schools.
He was asked if he wanted to do the same for next year.
“Do you really think for a minute I’m going to bring a contract to the board at $340,000 for Domino’s?!” he asked an aide. “That would be like — ‘Here — write a front page story about how inefficient this district is.’ Are you insane? Are you really insane!?”
In his first months on the job, Vitti had seen what he described as a shocking lack of basic financial and academic systems in the district. He’d seen contracts that were nonsensical, payments that had slipped through the cracks. He knew of principals who’d apparently given up on getting support from the district and had turned to a brand of survivalism to get what they needed for their schools.
“It is truly a district that has been mismanaged for over a decade,” he says.
But even by the standards of what he’d seen so far, the pizza contract seemed extreme.