Shelton mayor defends the city’s handling of bus company

Photo of Brian Gioiele
Mayor Mark Lauretti

Mayor Mark Lauretti

Christian Abraham / Hearst Connecticut Media

The city-run bus company has successfully delivered the city’s students and saved millions of dollars in the process, Mayor Mark Lauretti said in response to critics of Shelton Student Transportation Services.

Lauretti, at the Board of Aldermen meeting late last week, said he felt it necessary to respond to recent Facebook posts and letters to the editor, including those from Alderman David Gidwani, an outspoken critic of the mayor.

He was referring to claims that under his leadership busing has failed, storefronts remain vacant and there has been chronic underfunding of the school system.

Lauretti said the only narrative he has driven is one of success — revitalization of downtown, development of Bridgeport Avenue, saving 2,000 acres of open space and helping drive grand list increases that have helped maintain a low tax rate.

“I will not sit on the sidelines any longer,” Lauretti said.

Gidwani said Lauretti’s comments are more of his same old rhetoric.

“We hear over and over that the mayor keeps taxes low, which is great, but that phrase is getting old and played out,” Gidwani said.

“Mayor Lauretti in the beginning was on the right path of working hard to get his agendas and moving Shelton forward,” Gidwani said, “but at this point in his life, he was just interested in controlling Shelton as a dictator and taking care of builders and contractors.”

Gidwani said anyone on the Republican Town Committee who did not agree with Lauretti’s way was removed, including, he said, himself — because he spoke against him.

“Mr. Mayor, if you are doing a fantastic job with the Shelton taxpayers’ school buses, why not disclose the exact costs it takes to operate? Why do you resist giving us the information? A good leader is always a good listener.”

Gidwani said, in his opinion, Lauretti is “completely out of touch with the people that he is allegedly supposed to be serving. Shelton needs to get used to the idea that taxes will be low with someone else. (Lauretti) doesn’t get to take our grand list when he goes.”

Gidwani has stated that Shelton Student Transportation Service continues to fail at its main task — providing every student transportation to and from school, citing missed bus runs since school’s return from spring break in mid-April.

Lauretti disagreed, saying that through May 13, the city-run bus company was responsible for 3,153 bus runs and missed 16 — “and school never had to be canceled” for lack of drivers he said.

The company has 63 drivers and 20 monitors, he said.

Lauretti said the city is faced with the same driver shortage that is being experienced across the country. New drivers, he said, need to be certified by the state, and the state, because of COVID-19, is months behind in that process.

“Some people seem to think the pandemic does not affect Shelton,” Lauretti sai.d “I think, when all is said and done, (the city-run bus company) will be a shining light” for the city.

Lauretti denied the school district has been flat-funded for the past few years, saying in the 2019-20 school year, the first year the city ran transportation services, the schoold board saved some $1.2 million.

“(The BOE) budget was never reduced, and their costs were $1.2 million less than the year before,” Lauretti said.

The year before, he said, the school board budgeted $4.3 million for transportation with a private company. A court settlement between the city and school district caps transportation spending at $3.15 million. If costs ran more than that number, the city covers the amount. If less than $3.15 million, the city keeps the money.

“That extra money was available to spend on something else,” Lauretti said, adding that he was unsure if the board was being “devious or just not understanding” when claiming the budget remained flat funded.