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Lawmakers may act to block school districts from imposing restrictions on old building use

steve carmody
Michigan Radio/NPR

Michigan lawmakers this week may discuss changes to a law that prevents school districts from having a say on what happens to former school buildings.

A charter school operator wants to turn a former Detroit public schoolbuilding into a new school. But there’s a problem: a deed restriction on the property says they can’t. 

The district no longer owns the school, but the deed restriction gave it control over the future use of the building. 

Credit steve carmody / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
"Problematic" is how DPSCD Superintendent Nikolai Vitti describes the state law on deed restrictions

“It’s a constant stress,” says Kyle Smitely, the co-founder of the Detroit Prep Academy, “We still can’t get clear title. So at the end of the day, we’re in no better position.”

Smitely says the deed restriction is holding up their plans to renovate the building with hopes of starting classes in the fall of 2018. She says they have other options, but none as good.

A new law that took effect this year was supposed to prevent government bodies from putting such deed restrictions in place. The issue is currently in court.

Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent Nikolai Vittisays the new law is “problematic.”

“It usurps the right of elected school boards to determine the future of their own assets, and the assets of taxpayers at the local level,” Vitti told a legislative committee last month.

This week, the state Senate education committee is expected to consider revisions to the current law. The changes they're considering would more explicitly bar government bodies from imposing deed restrictions to prevent formerly owned buildings to be used as schools.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.