Detroit school district, charter schools team up for new education commission, joint bus service

Despite their ongoing competition for students, the Detroit Public Schools Community District and charter schools will team up to provide some joint services for students and families.

The city’s newly-formed Community Education Commission will take on that task. Its first order of business: running a bus loop connecting six DPSCD and four charter schools on the city’s west side.

The project, set to launch this fall, is called the Get on and Learn (GOAL) line. It’s free for students attending any of the ten schools on the loop, and will also connect with the city’s Northwest Activities Center, which will provide up to 200 students with after-school programming.

The GOAL line will pick up students at the school closest to their home, and take them to and from their school of choice. The estimated $1.2 million pilot project will be funded by equal contributions from the city, the Skillman Foundation, and the participating schools.

DPSCD Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says collaborating with charter schools makes sense in this case. He says the GOAL line will actually lower student transportation costs for DSCPD, and should help boost overall enrollment.

“The fact that 30,000 students are leaving Detroit for schools outside of Detroit is a challenge that we all face, as traditional public schools and as charter schools,” Vitti said. “So it’s just natural for us to work together to try to overcome that challenge, especially in a way that makes economic or financial sense for the school district.”

Vitti hailed the Community Education Commission as a way to enable joint services like transportation, and potentially joint standards to evaluate all Detroit schools. “I’m excited that it’s being done in Detroit, and not done by those outside of Detroit, as we create stronger accountability measures,” he said.

The CEC will operate as a non-profit whose stated mission is to “break down barriers that prevent families and children accessing quality schools in Detroit.” Mayor Mike Duggan gets to appoint the nine members, which include representatives from DPSCD, charters, parents, teachers’ unions, and business, non-profit, and community groups.

The new bus service was welcome news to Detroit parent Nealmetria Loper. She says she currently pays $325 a month to have her children transported to a Cornerstone charter school on the city’s far west side. But since the GOAL line will serve another Cornerstone charter school, Loper says she’ll transfer her kids there.

“For them to be able to go to one of those schools and get transportation, that alleviates a lot of that cost,” said Loper, who also hopes her kids can take advantage of after-school activities at the Northwest Activities Center. “My children will certainly benefit from this program.”

LaTonya Peterson, whose has one child in a DPSCD school and another in a charter school,  says she would also benefit from something like the GOAL line. But since Peterson lives on the city’s east side, the current route doesn’t help her.

“Instead of launching all ten schools on the west side, they should have considered putting half on the east side, so they can see how it impacts both east and west instead of focusing on one side of town,” Peterson said.

Duggan says the hope is to add similar transportation loops added in the future, but the city needs to start small.

“We haven’t tried something like this. We’re going to know a whole lot more in six months than we know today,” Duggan said.

“I think all of us hope the GOAL line succeeds, and we replicate it in one area of the city after another. We need to prove that we can make this work.”