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Leadership, funding and security dominate discussion in first meeting on school bus loop plan

The people charged with leading a new mayoral commission designed to unite competitive district and charter schools got down to business Tuesday by naming an executive director, and hammering out details for new after-school activities and bus service starting this fall.

Commissioners voted for Stephanie Young, a former state legislator and veteran city official, to lead the group.

“I really want to go out and spread the story of what we’re doing,” Young, a neighborhood district manager for Mayor Mike Duggan, told the commissioners. “This is about advancing opportunities for parents and students, and helping to eliminate barriers to quality programs and transportation.”

The group of 11 commissioners was named by Duggan at a press conference Monday at the Northwest Activities Center, a popular recreation spot on Detroit’s northwest side. The commissioners’ signature project is running a bus loop that will transport as many as 200 students to charter and district schools this fall, and to the recreation center after school.

The after-school activities will include robotics, swimming, homework help, and mental health counseling at the center. Special needs students won’t be served by the transportation service.

Plans to remodel portions of the activities center to accommodate a separate entrance and the new after-school programs will soon be presented to the board, which plans to meet monthly.  Meetings times, which have not been determined, will be posted on the city’s website.

The board approved a $900,000 grant from the Detroit Children’s Fund, a nonprofit organization that helps fund educational opportunities, and a $1.2 million grant from the Skillman Foundation (which also funds Chalkbeat).

The commissioners also selected one of the main district’s bus companies, Trinity Transportation, but the contract is contingent on the company providing safety and sensitivity training for its drivers and the two adults who will ride with students.

“It would behoove us to make sure that whoever that second adult is on the bus is actually trained in high-quality development. They set the tone for the kids,” said board member Tonya Allen, who heads the Skillman Foundation. “We need to make sure that the bus route is constructive and orderly.”

Other safety measures for students were discussed, including more details on the identification card each student will have that will send a text message to parents, informing them when their child enters and exits the bus and the recreation center. Additional security officers will also be added at the center.

A handful of people attended with meeting along with city officials, including the mayor’s chief of staff, Alexis Wiley. The commissioners heard public comments from a parent and grandparent who wanted to support the board’s efforts.