‘Lady Ds’ challenge GOP control of Shelton school board

SHELTON — Nine Republicans may be running for the Board of Education, but it is five Democrats hoping to gain control of the GOP-led board this Election Day.

Incumbent Democrats Kate Kutash, Patti Moonan and Diana Meyer are joined on the ballot by Lorraine Rossner and Joan Littlefield. The five, known among their supporters as the Lady Ds, hope to wrest control of the board on Nov. 2.

On the Republican side, the five incumbents — chair Kathy Yolish, James Orazietti, John Fitzgerald, Amy Romano and Carl Rizzo — are joined by RTC-endorsed candidates Jim Feehan, Joseph Pagliaro, Jr., Michael Mainiero and Darlisa Ritter, who was a board member until two years ago.

Shelton’s city charter gives the majority five seats, with the minority — no matter how many end up among the top nine vote-getters — getting four seats. In the 2019 municipal election, eight of the top nine vote-recipients were Republicans.

The hot topic remains the buses, with the board’s three-year contract with the city-owned Shelton Student Transportation Service concluding after this school year. And the divide on the partnership breaks down along party lines.

Kutash, a board member since 2009, calls the looming close of the contract the biggest issue facing the new board — no matter the political leadership.

“There are those that say this alliance has saved the BOE money,” Kutash said, “However the city ‘bus company’ has not been forthcoming with line-by-line detail on the costs they have incurred to run the buses in the last three years.”

Kutash said the bus company, lauded by Mayor Mark Lauretti as a model for the state, frequently misses runs, sporting events and students.

“I feel when we go out to bid in January, we need to not only consider the proposed costs by bidders but the quality of service and of vehicles to transport our students,” Kutash said. “A ‘city run bus company’ may not be in the best interests of our pockets, or of providing reliable, safe transportation.”

Rossner, recently retired assistant superintendent and longtime staple of the school district, said the city should get out of the “school bus” business as soon as possible.

“This is a huge expense and investment by the city for a transportation system that is a huge responsibility and is probably not as profitable as originally thought,” Rossner said. “The city and the taxpayers do not need the current financial burden of running a bus company and the city definitely does not need the economic burden of maintaining and fixing an aging fleet of buses that are approaching the end of their shelf life.”

Republican hopefuls, however, see a financial benefit to maintaining the partnership with the city for student transportation.

Orazietti said the bus company has come under a tremendous amount of “unfair political biased criticism,” as evident by surrounding towns sending out messages of unavailable bus service.

The Republican ticket insists that Shelton Student Transportation Service has saved millions of dollars that can be redirected to the classroom.

“Our city has proven once again that in-house services are very cost effective and allow us to retain control of the costs and expenses,” Pagliaro said.

Rizzo said the board and city have also made a significant investment in the new routing and GPS technology by the city and BOE will allow for a more user-friendly, higher level of service starting early next year.

“The investments made in new technologies and software will dramatically improve the transportation experience by bringing more predictability, safety and peace of mind to everyone who relies on a city school bus,” Rizzo said.

Romano said that when the time comes to discuss a new bus contract, the board will need to look at cost combined with performance.

“I feel a bit apprehensive on how these other bus companies could even perform as they are experiencing the same if not more shortages, as they service multiple towns,” Romano said. “It will certainly be a topic that will require collaborative conversations and decisions based on these factors and possibly more.”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com