City officials are refusing to pay Durham School Services more than $200,000, citing the poor conditions of city-owned buses that the company recently returned.

But the bus company that drove Shelton students last school year denies the city’s claims about the fleet conditions and is prepared to take legal action to obtain the $243,000 in owed funds.

“Yes, the city owes us money for the transportation services we provided per the terms of our agreement with Shelton public schools,” said Durham School Services’ media representative Ed Flavin.

“Their claim that their failure to pay is the result of fleet conditions is unfounded,” added Flavin. “We intend to seek all available legal remedies available to us to recover these amounts owed.”

Mayor Mark Lauretti said that it is “not uncommon to hold back monies for a contract of that magnitude until all terms and conditions are met.

“There are discrepancies over maintenance of some of the buses,” said Lauretti, adding that Durham did not return three of the buses to the city until just days before the scheduled start of school on Sept. 3.

Lauretti said Durham not only withheld bus driver records that impeded the city’s ability to secure the proper number of drivers in a timely fashion but also poached 10 drivers with incentives just days before the opening of Shelton schools. Shelton schools were to open Sept. 3, but that was delayed one day until state Department of Motor Vehicles officials verified all credentials for city bus drivers. The city was also forced to subcontract drivers from two separate companies to meet the required number of drivers.

“Some have suggested that we have underestimated the magnitude of providing the bus services,” said Lauretti, “but there are a lot of underlying conditions the people are not aware of here in this political world that we live in. Some people choose not to recognize what the first couple weeks of school busing services can bring in terms of changes, as was the case last year.”

Lauretti said people have forgotten some of the shortfalls of last year and September that are not uncommon to the student transportation industry.

Superintendent Dr. Chris Clouet said the Board of Education voted to enter into a contract with Durham in 2018, and the funds to cover those costs were placed in the school budget at that time.

“The Board of Aldermen voted to allocate funds for the school budget,” said Clouet. “Now they are withholding some funds from us, making it impossible for us to meet our contractual obligation.

“Sadly, this is a pattern,” added Clouet.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com