Students enrolled in Oklahoma City Public Schools' high school academies next year are going to get free rides on Metro Transit buses, and yellow school buses will mingle with their city-owned counterparts at the downtown bus station.
The Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority board approved a system last week allowing the academy students to use city buses for free, including for nonschool related activities, COTPA director Rick Cain told a joint Oklahoma City Council-school board task force Wednesday.
Metro Transit and school buses also will work in concert to get students to their academies, which will serve students from throughout the city, likely requiring a long commute for some.
The academy system will set up specialized curriculum programs at different high schools around the city for students to pursue a particular career field. An example is a financial academy at John Marshall High School, which will host a credit union branch staffed by students.
Students can apply to attend the academies even if the school is out of their home district. Under the transportation arrangement, students will need their own way to get to their home high school, but then will be taken to their academy by school buses, Metro Transit buses or both.
“The school system is going to work to come up with some kind of a photo ID so we can document students,” Cain said. “We're working on a pass program that we can provide that will work through our electronic pass system. We'll be able to actually track the students that are using them and what time of day they're using them.”
Metro Transit buses assisted the school district with some transportation needs in the past, but this is a new effort to support the academy system. The momentum for the arrangement grew from meetings of the task force, which is an informal group intended to solve problems jointly by bringing the most powerful people in the city government and school district to the same table once a month.
Pioneering task force
The task force is thought to be the first of its kind in Oklahoma, where cities do not control school districts. City Councilmen Pete White and Pat Ryan are the de facto ringleaders, with enthusiastic support from school board members, Superintendent Karl Springer and other city and school officials.
In other business at the Tuesday meeting, momentum for a city-assisted management audit of the school district continued to grow. The city has proposed conducting the audit with its own internal audit office to identify inefficiencies and other issues within the school district to improve future performance.
Springer told the task force school officials are reviewing a city proposal for an audit and expect to go forward with it soon.
Other items discussed by the task force range from marketing ideas to tutoring programs and getting neighborhood associations to use schools as meeting places. The Oklahoma City RedHawks organization is also teaching a coaching, skills and field maintenance clinic to district coaches and players this summer.
A joint meeting of the full city council and school board is expected this summer. Task force members will explain what's been accomplished so far and detail plans for more cooperation in the future with the goal of cementing broad support from both bodies as they work together to improve education in Oklahoma City.