Lauretti: Shelton school bus costs will not increase next year

SHELTON — The city-run bus company will transport students next year for the same cost as this year — $3.15 million — according to Mayor Mark Lauretti.

This is the third year of the three-year contract between the city and Board of Education for student transportation. In a court-ordered settlement, the Board of Education pays the city $3.15 million annually, with the city covering any costs over that amount.

Lauretti told Hearst Connecticut Media Thursday that the price will remain the same next year.

“There is no negotiation,” Lauretti said. “I plan to hold the price.”

This announcement comes one day after the Board of Education voted to authorize Superintendent Ken Saranich to begin negotiations with the mayor’s office and Shelton Student Transportation Service (SSTS) officials to extend the present deal, which expires in mid-2022.

Lauretti said he would consider a longer-term deal if the Board of Education broached the subject.

“That would be up for discussion,” Lauretti added.

Board Chair Kathy Yolish called Lauretti’s statement a “win-win.

“The mayor’s proposal would be welcomed by the Board of Education, in my opinion,” Yolish said. “Any cost savings can and should go into the funding and support of the students and programs. We could even have a possibility to reduce or eliminate pay-to-participate if we had the extra cost savings to do so.”

Saranich told board members at their meeting Wednesday it is important to receive costs for extending the deal with the 2022-23 budget cycle getting underway next month. If the board chooses not to extend, Saranich said it would need to start the bid process.

Board member Diana Meyer noted the recent improvement in the bus service’s performance.

“While I have historically been critical of Shelton Student Transportation Services, I recognize the need to do what is fiscally prudent for our school system,” Meyer said. “The bus data log shows the number of incidents have decreased from a high 37 in October to eight in November and five so far in December. Based on the improvement in service, I am in favor of the board entering into discussions with the city to extend the transportation contract for another year.”

Yolish agreed the extension was in the best interest of the schools for several reasons.

First, she said, the board has established a good rapport with the SSTS Director Ken Nappi, who has daily contact with the school’s central office and bus liaison.

“There have been much less concerns or incidents reported on the daily logs that are kept,” Yolish said. “Both the city and school personnel have been trained in the Transversa/Versatrans program which will benefit the students and families with added information and assist the bus drivers in supporting routes and traffic delays.”

Yolish also said another important reason for a deal is that the district is locked into a firm fuel rate for two more years and “that is a great savings since costs are rapidly rising.”

Lauretti praised the bus company, which had come under fire from board members and parents over the past two years. He said the schools have seen savings of more than $2 million over the two years of the city running student transportation.

The city and schools have both invested money in updating the bus technology. Yolish said the district has already spent $12,650 on updating the bus transportation routing system and $49,000 to hire Alyssa DiTullio as the new bus liaison.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com