The Shelton Board of Education officially entered a three-year contract with a bus company based in Durham at its meeting Wednesday night, May 23.
The contract is worth $4.3 million, with three years guaranteed and the option to extend after the third year.
Despite no longer having to worry about who will be taking the approximately 3,500 students to school in Shelton each day during the school year, the Board of Ed is being forced to cough up an additional $800,000 to cover the costs of the new provider not having access to the bus yard or repair facility.
The Durham bus company, National Express LLC, gave the Board of Ed a deadline of Friday, May 25 at 5 p.m. to figure out if it would have access to the city’s 60-propane buses that it purchased over the last five years.
Board of Ed Chair Mark Holden said almost 90 minutes after the board’s deadline on Friday, the city offered to lease its 60 propane school buses for $1 for the upcoming school year and then take over the transportation of students for 2019-20.
Holden said the city knew the Board of Ed couldn’t accept this late offer and that he told the city the board was alread locked in for three years with NE LLC.
Before the Board of Ed signed the deal with NE LLC on Wednesday night, Holden said the board would have happily signed a deal with the city if it agreed to grant its transportation provider the same $1 per year deal as it had with Landmark in years past.
“If there was a way to get reliable, safe transportation for our students for $1 we’d be thrilled, because it would free up a lot of money that we could use to do things like put counselors in our schools, but they haven’t done anything to show us actual savings, and that’s the problem,” said Holden.
The Board of Ed voted 6-2 on the three-year agreement with NE LLC. Board members Dr. Darlissa Ritter and Kathy Yolish were against signing the contract on Friday because they were hopeful the city would be willing to grant them money to cover the $800,000.
The optimism from both Board of Ed members didn’t affect the outcome of the contract.
Up until the offer was received from the city Wednesday night, Board of Ed members said they hadn’t heard or seen an offer.
With that $800,000 no longer available to be spent on teachers or counselors, the board is now faced with cuts that need to be made.
“A lot’s got to go,” said Superintendent Dr. Chris Clouet. “There will be a reduction of services and personnel.”
Some Board of Ed members have already begun to speculate about the impacts of its budget request being denied.
“The kids might have a bus to go to school, but they might not have a teacher,” said Yolish.
Board member David Gioiello said the students would certainly all have teachers, but the district’s class sizes would increase and this could have negative impacts on the children.
“The fact that the city spent $5.5 million over the past five years to buy 60 buses, and in reality only saved $2 million over those five years for what it would have taken to lease the buses, demonstrates their fiscal irresponsibility,” said Gioiello. “Even if they sell the buses for 50 cents on the dollar, they’d still lose money. To think they’re capable of running a bus system when no other city in the state does it is mind-boggling.”
“I have never seen anything like this. … It’s an embarrassment,” said Clouet.
“The superintendent assured me that we will come up with a budget that is based on being balanced on whatever is allocated by the aldermen,” said Holden.
Holden said he speculates NE LLC has already found the place where it will get its 60 diesel-fueled buses.
The Board of Aldermen recommended the Board of Ed budget be $72.7 million for the 2018-19 school year despite its $74.7 million request. The aldermen’s recommendation is $1.23 million more than the education board received last year.
The Board of Education will work on rebalancing its budget at its Wednesday night, June 6, meeting.