A partnership to make bus stops for students at district and charter schools in Detroit appears to be back on track

A city plan to boost collaboration between district and charter schools cleared a speed bump on Monday, as a district committee narrowly approved a joint bus route in Northwest Detroit. The proposal will go before the full board this week.

The district’s finance sub-committee shelved concerns about the program’s cost and the role of charter schools, with two of three board members voicing support.

The proposed bus line would stop at 10 elementary and middle schools, including six district schools, Vitti said. (See below for a list of schools and a map of the proposed route.)

It hit a snag earlier this year when Vitti balked at the price tag of $20,000 per school, arguing that the district could wind up subsidizing transportation for charter schools if few students sign up to ride the bus. Instead, the plan presented Monday requires the district to pay a per-student fee — $1,000 annually for each student who rides twice a day, and $500 per year for once-daily riders.

Vitti said the plan would help the district lure back the 32,000 Detroit students who leave the city every day for school, sometimes using free transportation offered by nearby districts and charter schools.

“This gives us an opportunity to retain and recruit students specifically due to the bus loop,” Vitti said.

The bus line would also help students access after-school programs at schools and community centers, including arts and robotics classes that are not available in some Detroit schools.

Mayor Mike Duggan touted the plan in his State of the City address in March, emphasizing his administration’s efforts to promote cooperation between the district and charter schools.  

Still, the remaining opposition to the plan came from a board member wary of working with charter schools, which compete with the main district for students and teachers. For LaMar Lemmons, the partnership with charter schools posed the greatest issue, not the cost. He noted that the district has declined to collaborate with charter schools on other programs, such as food service.

“You’re getting into a relationship with a group of charter schools to enhance their services,” said Lemmons, who recently announced a bid for state Senate. “I think that’s inconsistency of message.”

Sonya Mays, chair of the finance committee, said under the per-student billing model, district funds would only go to its students who rode the bus line.

“In many instances our district does not have adequate resources to solve some of the problems that we face,” she said, noting that she “supports pilots with other stakeholders.”

The first year of the proposed program is a test run. If the full board votes in favor of the plan at its June 12 meeting, the district’s portion of the funding will be taken from money set aside for contingencies. The city and philanthropies will cover one-third each of the bus line’s overall cost. Predicting the actual cost to schools is difficult because officials aren’t sure how many students will use the buses.

Students using the line could be issued an ID card that could be swiped upon boarding the bus, allowing the district and parents to keep tabs on each child, Vitti said.

Board member Angelique Peterson-Mayberry asked for more detailed assurances about security at public facilities like the Northwest Activity Center, which would be included on the route after school.

“How are they secure… while they’re at that facility?” she asked, noting, for instance, that student access could be limited to one door.

Schools to be served by the proposed line include: Bagley Elementary, Schulze Elementary-Middle, Lincoln-King Academy, Coleman A. Young Elementary, John R. King Academic and Performing Arts Academy, Foreign Language Immersion and Cultural Studies School, Detroit Achievement Academy, University Yes Academy, Vernor Elementary, and David Ellis Academy. In the afternoon, it would make stops at the Tindal Center and the Northwest Activity Center, community buildings in the area.