Mayor: Busing plan on track

Plans remain on track, according to the mayor, for the city of Shelton to provide bus transportation to public and parochial students beginning with the 2019-20 school year.

But school officials say no formal plan has been submitted to the administration or Board of Education, which, according to school Superintendent Dr. Chris Clouet, was supposed to be submitted by the end of December.

Clouet said the school administration’s attorney recently sent a letter — containing several questions, mirroring those that would be answered by a private bus company — to Mayor Mark Lauretti asking for this plan. As of this past Wednesday, no plan had been sent, Clouet said.

“We will be operating under the same plan that we are operating right now, as we have operated under before,” said Lauretti, adding that his office will respond to the letter. “There is nothing confusing about this.”

Clouet said the Board of Education is seeking confirmation of the city's preparations to take over the school transportation services for Shelton public school students. Among the issues to which the board seeks clarification, according to Clouet, are personnel, insurance and equipment maintenance.

Clouet said the board is just asking to see the same information from city that it would receive from any bidder seeking to earn the district’s transportation contract. Among the questions are, can the city:

  • Provide following full-time positions: terminal manager, dispatcher and safety coordinator;

  • Provide 61 properly licensed school bus drivers;

  • Provide 30 bus monitors;

  • Provide at least 5 stand-by drivers and at least 2 stand-by aides;

  • Provide a part-time mechanic;

  • Conduct required background checks, drug-testing and physical examinations for drivers before commencement of services in July 2019;

  • Provide a list of all bus drivers to the board at least 21 calendar days before the commencement of the services in July 2019; and

  • Provide mandatory safety instruction and driver training for all bus drivers.

  • Provide properly licensed buses for providing home-to-school and school-to-home runs

  • Provide vehicle insurance, with a $1 million combined single limit (bodily injury and property damage) from a secured carrier with a Type A rating or higher.

Lauretti had stated last month that, in his view, the settlement agreement between the city and the Board of Education — finalized last July — gives all the necessary details of the city’s plan to take over the transportation duties, at what the mayor believes will be a significant cost savings.

“There will be no changes, we’re using the same model,” said Lauretti about the city’s plan to take over school bus transportation. “We’re just going to do it for a lot less money.”

Lauretti said his office’s estimates show an annual $1 million cost savings by the city — which owns 60 propane school buses — taking over the bus routes.

“We could be wrong, but that will be on me. I’ll bear that burden,” said Lauretti, adding that Clouet and the Board of Education were not willing to work with the city this past school year, which left cost savings on the table.

But without a formal plan, Clouet said the preliminary school budget numbers — which were submitted to the Board of Education this past Wednesday — include no funds allocated for transportation. The line item simply states TBD, to be determined, said Clouet.

According to the settlement, the deal between the city and Board of Education would be for three years with a cost of no more than $3.15 million. The settlement states “If the city determines that it is unable to perform the transportation services required by the Board for the 2019-2022 school years, the Board shall put the transportation services out to bid.”

This move comes months after the city moved to assume control of the bus transportation services, in order to save the city money, said Lauretti.

No deal could be reached during the past budget cycle, and the Board of Education voted in May 2018 to sign a three-year deal with Durham. That decision resulted in the city filing suit against the Board of Education — the settlement of which led to a one-year deal for Durham to bus Shelton’s students to class, ending at the close of this present school year. Beginning next year, Lauretti said that the city will bus all children to class.

The city’s lawsuit has been withdrawn and Shelton students will ride to school this fall on city-owned school buses, according to a settlement agreement signed by both Lauretti and Clouet.

The agreement, reached after several court-ordered mediation sessions, calls for the district to use Durham School Services for the upcoming school year.

But the deal also calls for the Board of Education and city to enter into a three-year agreement for the city to take over school bus service starting in the 2019-20 school fiscal year, provided it charges the district no more than $3.15 million a year. The city must also hold the district harmless against any claims made by Durham and not hold it against the board during budget season, should a claim be made.

The cost implications of the deal were not immediately clear, but Clouet said he is cautiously optimistic the settlement will end up costing the district less than it would have, had Durham been made to supply school buses.

In a complaint filed June 27 in Milford Superior Court, Lauretti charged that the school board violated the Shelton city charter nine times when it awarded a contract to Durham School Services. The suit alleged the school district met with bidders without the city purchasing agent, modified its bid and awarded the contract without the participation of the purchasing agent — all, the city says, in violation of the charter.

The district’s contract with the company grew by $800,000 this spring to $4.3 million annually when Lauretti announced the city-own fleet of 60 school buses could not be used. Although the city made it clear it wanted to take over the bus service, it did not satisfy school officials that it could do the job.

Some 3,500 students ride the bus to school in Shelton. The city purchased its fleet of 60 propane-powered school buses four years ago.