Bus issues halt Shelton school opening

Shelton schools will not open on Tuesday, Sept. 3, as originally planned, according to school Superintendent Dr. Chris Clouet.

“I am disappointed to communicate to each of you and your children that the Shelton public school system will not open on Sept. 3,” said Clouet in a statement sent to parents. “This is not the time for blaming or ‘throwing rocks,’ but the simple fact is the city-run Shelton Student Transportation Services project is not ready.”

Clouet said he anticipates school opening on Sept. 4.

This decision came only hours after kindergartners across Shelton went on practice bus runs. State Department of Motor Vehicles officials spent much of Friday, Aug. 30, inspecting drivers’ records, and Mayor Mark Lauretti pushed to subcontract drivers as all involved sought to guarantee school starting on Sept. 3, as planned.

But Clouet said that no one running the Shelton Student Transportation Service (SSTS) could confirm the city has enough drivers or that the drivers were certified, with drug tests and background checks, by DMV officials. Clouet said he called the SSTS office a dozen times Friday, Aug. 30, but was unable to verify that information, which led him to this decision to delay the start of school at least one day.

Mayor Lauretti called the move political, saying the city is simply three drivers short, and all drivers in place have been certified by the DMV and the routes are ready.

“There is no reason to jump the gun here,” said Lauretti. “The routes have been posted, and there are contingency plans to fill the void. This is just another attempt to make me look bad.”

Clouet said he is not interested in politics and made this decision because he was unable to confirm what Lauretti now claims.

Lauretti said that Durham School Services, which handled student transportation last school year, has poached 14 drivers, with higher salaries and bonuses, over the past week, leaving Shelton short on drivers as the opening the school approached.

“I don’t fault the drivers at all,” said Lauretti. “We have this deficiency because of what Durham did.”

To handle the loss of the drivers, Lauretti said that the city plans to subcontract drivers.

Board of Education Chairman Mark Holden, during the Here for Shelton Facebook Live event Thursday, Aug. 29, said that subcontracting for drivers is smart, “allowing the city time to recruit drivers for the balance of the school year.

“It is unfortunate that the city underestimated the magnitude of this operation, they started late and now they have to scramble,” said Holden, “but to their credit, they are working hard to make this happen. I appreciate that.”

While not all bus drivers’ records are yet verified, Shelton students have been driven to Emmett O’Brien Technical High School, Platt Technical High School, Trumbull Vo-Ag and Cooperative Educational Services (CES).

Dr. Clouet said about a dozen drivers were needed for the bus runs from Shelton to Emmett O’Brien, in Ansonia, Platt Tech in Milford, and Trumbull Vo-Ag and CES, also in Trumbull, and “all have been cleared to drive by DMV.”

DMV officials have been able to look through records provided by Durham School Services, which handled student transportation for the city during the 2018-19 school year, for those drivers that simply moved from Durham to the city-run service.

Clouet confirmed this information Monday, Aug. 26, after talking with Ken Nappi, SSTS director. Clouet said the district is “waiting to review the records of all the drivers and would expect that, according to the request for proposal the city agreed to adhere to, background checks will also be completed.”

The city officially took over control of the school bus transportation operation on July 1, and summer school started on July 9.

Clouet said state law requires that when a new company assumes school bus operations, such as the city did on July 1, that the new company must perform all required drug testing and background checks. Clouet said that Nappi told him all drivers were drug tested on Friday, Aug. 23. At that point, Clouet said no complaint had been filed, but he had planned to return to the city bus garage Aug. 28 to inspect all records from the recently completed testing to make sure each driver was adequately screened.