Shelton’s city-operated bus transportation is violating its agreement with the Board of Education, potentially creating an unsafe situation for students using the buses, according to the school district’s attorney.

Attorneys Christine Chinni and Craig Meuser, representing the Board of Education, sent a letter to city counsel Fran Teodosio on Friday, Sept. 6, stating that if the city does not “take immediate steps to ensure the safety of all students transported on city buses” by the start of the coming week, the board will “implement the agreed upon financial damages for each of the city’s contract violations” during the 2019-20 school year.

The Board of Education has charged that Shelton Student Transportation Services does not have the required 56 drivers or five spare drivers — forcing the city to use the terminal manager as a driver, in violation of contract — and has not yet provided verification that all drivers have been drug tested or background checked.

“The city underestimated the work involved and started late,” said Board of Education Chairman Mark Holden. “I hope Shelton School Transportation Service has staff working over the weekend to ensure they are ready to safely deliver our students on time starting on Monday.”

The attorneys stated that the Board of Education has noted significant deficiencies during the first few days of the 2019-20 school year. Schools opened one day late — on Wednesday, Sept. 4 — because school administrators claimed that Shelton Student Transportation Services not only did not have enough drivers but also did not have proof that the drivers had the required drug tests and background checks.

“I am not shocked,” said Mayor Mark Lauretti about the letter. “You would think that (Clouet) would want to try and help us succeed, but it just easier for him to do this. I just ignore the accusations.”

School Superintendent Dr. Chris Clouet said that the board’s decision to speak through its attorneys was a proper way to see that the contract between the city and Board of Education is followed.

“We take pride in being a nation based on the rule of law,” said Clouet. “We see our free market economy as a source of wealth and well-being. That requires following the laws and living up to signed agreements. That’s all we ask.”

Clouet said the district decided to open Wednesday, Sept. 4, because officials were satisfied enough properly certified drivers were in place. Lauretti said the struggle to find drivers was due to Durham Schools Services poaching a dozen drivers with higher salaries and bonuses only days before Shelton schools were to open combined with a bus driver shortage now facing all municipalities.

But complaints from parents and concerns about the number of drivers continued through the remainder of the week. The attorneys also noted the city has failed to send buses to required locations to pick up students, specifically those for the New Haven arts program.

“While the mayor has suggested that the one-day delay for the opening of school in Shelton was unnecessary, recent events have demonstrated that his statement lacks any merit,” stated the board’s attorneys. “In particular, during the last three calendar days of the city’s provision of transportation services has violated the express terms of the transportation services contract in multiple ways.”

The attorneys said the city’s violations include:

 The terminal manager has been driving buses this past week in violation of the contract.

 The contract requires 56 regularly assigned drivers and six spare drivers, but in the absence of sufficient drivers, the city has the terminal manager driving buses. The city has also not provided verified evidence of the employment of the 56 regularly assigned drivers.

 The contract requires a qualified driver trainer/safety coordinator, but the Board of Education has not received evidence that the city is employing such an individual.

 The Board of Education has yet to receive verified information that all school bus drivers have been drug tested prior to employment as has been requested.

Lauretti said that the city continues to move toward securing the final five back-up drivers and stated, as he did last week, that all the drivers presently under contract with the city have been drug tested and had background checks, adding that “the state has all the records.”

“The events of this past week demonstrate that multiple violations of the parties’ transportation services contract have occurred that could affect this fundamental requirement,” the attorneys stated. “For this reason, the Board of Education demands that the city take immediate steps to correct the noted violations, and to comply with the parties’ transportation services contract.”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com