Shelton residents protest city's bus 'mismanagement'

SHELTON — Angela Pellegrino-Grant said she had had enough after learning at 4 p.m. Friday that her children would not be going to school Tuesday because of a lack of bus drivers.

Pellegrino-Grant took to social media, calling on anyone reading to join in her protest of what she calls the city’s mismanagement of the bus operation.

Dozens of residents converged on City Hall Tuesday morning to voice their frustration with the postponement of the first day of school.

“It’s Tuesday, and we still don’t know if we’ll have school Wednesday, or how students will get to school if there is school Wednesday,” Pellegrino-Grant said at the rally, her three school-age children by her side.

“We’ve heard from (Mayor Mark Lauretti), ‘This is not our fault,’” Pellegino-Grant said. “We’re here today to say to the mayor to take responsibility for the project you went to court to get. ... Tell him that none of this is OK.”

Shelton schools were to open Tuesday, but schools Superintendent Chris Clouet announced Aug. 30 the opening was on hold since he was unable to confirm the city had enough drivers certified by the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

An announcement was made arond 5 p.m. Tuesday that school would be open on Wednesday.

Lauretti said the now-city-run operation, Shelton Student Transportation Service, was only three drivers short when Clouet announced his decision Friday to postpone opening day.

Among Tuesday’s protesters was Ursa Mooney, who joined the group with her daughter Vela, who will be starting in kindergarten at Mohegan School.

“We are here because we need to shed light on the ridiculous handling of this Shelton-run bus company,” Mooney said. Vela “deserves better, as do all children affected by this folly.”

“I’ve had enough,” said Dila Ostertag, who attended the protest with both her daughters. “I am just disappointed with the Shelton government. ... We need people who want to work together, to do the right thing for their constituents. I hope this protest will start making people more aware of what is happening.”

The city and the school district had been in contention for more than a year over busing. Last summer, the school district solicited bids for busing and got a bid from its former busing company, Durham School Services.

The city owned the buses Durham used, and said it would take over bus service, but did not provide a written bid by the time the bid deadline came. The district awarded the bid to Durham. The city said it would not allow its buses to be used by Durham.

In July 2018, the Board of Aldermen filed suit against the Board of Education for allegedly violating the city charter while negotiating, and ultimately signing, with Durham School Services.

The city and Board of Education eventually settled the court case. The city agreed to assume control of student transportation at an annual cost of $3.15 million. The city took over busing in time for summer school.

“There was nothing but praise for the operation until last week, when the former bus operator set our program back by hiring some eight to 10 Shelton bus drivers,” Board of Aldermen President John Anglace said last weekend. “With a state and national bus driver shortage, you can imagine the impact of this incident.”

The city’s bus operation also came under scrutiny two weeks ago after a Facebook post surfaced charging that those who drove buses for the city’s summer school program had neither been drug-tested nor undergone background checks before beginning their employment with Shelton Student Transportation Service.

Clouet and state Department of Motor Vehicles officials investigated and determined that, while not all bus drivers’ records were verified, enough were complete so Shelton students could be driven to Emmett O’Brien Technical High School, Platt Technical High School, Trumbull Vo-Ag and Cooperative Educational Services beginning Aug. 29, when those schools opened.

Anglace said driver records, which were only recently released to the city, have now been received and drug tests and background checks verified.

“The city clearly understands its service provider obligation to the (Board of Education) and is cooperating fully,” said Anglace. “The city administration has assured me that they are doing all in their power to minimize any inconvenience and provide for the safety of the students.”