Minneapolis high schoolers: City buses vs. yellow ones

  • Article by: COREY MITCHELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 5, 2011 - 8:36 AM

Go-To transit passes are proposed for Minneapolis high schoolers.

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A Metro Transit city bus glides through the intersection of S. 4th Street and S. 2nd Av. in downtown Minneapolis.

Photo: Brendan Sullivan, Special to the Star Tribune

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Public high school students in Minneapolis would ride city buses to school, under a proposal that would supply them with Metro Transit Go-To cards instead of seats on yellow school buses.

The proposal to cut or eliminate transportation for high schoolers isn't primarily about saving money. In fact, seven of eight analyses conclude the district would pay more for transportation, up to $4.9 million or even more under the costliest scenario.

The change would benefit students who participate in activities before and after school and those with jobs, said Meredith Fox, a school administrator.

"Academics are the primary purpose," Fox said. "It provides access to resources and teaches [students] how to interact with their city."

The district task force led by Fox will present a full proposal to Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson at the end of October.

The district estimates that 3,900 of the expected 7,200 high school students next school year will be eligible for transportation because they live outside the 2-mile mandatory transportation zone.

The biggest decision centers on who would receive the $385 cards: all students or just those eligible for transportation.

The district could save money by handing out the card only to transportation-eligible students and maintaining the current bus schedule for K-8 students.

Under the current district busing plan, school start times are staggered from 7:30 a.m. to 9:40 a.m. Offering free public transportation to thousands of high schoolers would enable administrators to condense bus schedules by more than an hour, albeit at a cost.

The decision might rely on how the district handles projected enrollment shifts that could force thousands of students to change schools over the next two years.

The projected costs are estimates and could fall considerably if the district is able to negotiate with Metro Transit, said Courtney Cushing Kiernat, a district administrative resource specialist.

The plan also calls for hiring a transportation coordinator at each of the city's seven high schools to ensure that students aren't using the cards when they're supposed to be in class.

In other cities, including Seattle and Madison, Wis., districts arrange for high school students to use public transit.

For the past 18 months, the district has run pilot programs with the Go-To cards with students at Roosevelt and Edison high schools.

From January to June, 60 members of the Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board's Youth Congress were test subjects for the proposal.

"They loved the freedom of them," said Ann DeGroot, executive director of the Coordinating Board.

"It was overwhelmingly positive."

North High School junior Sikari Thompson was among the test subjects.

The card allowed her to arrive on time for her early morning driver's education course before regular classes began at North High and to get home after wrestling practice in the evening.

The 16-year-old didn't have to worry about scrounging up bus fare or fretting over expired transfers, but she questions offering the option to all students, citing concerns about the cost and whether all students need them.

"It was a good experience for me. I wish I had it this year," she said. "But [the cards] are not for all people."

Corey Mitchell • 612-673-4491

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