Shelton’s delayed opening sparks criticism

Photo of Brian Gioiele
Incoming kindergartners get off the bus after going for a trial run on the morning of Friday, Aug. 30, at Elizabeth Shelton School.

Incoming kindergartners get off the bus after going for a trial run on the morning of Friday, Aug. 30, at Elizabeth Shelton School.

Brian Gioiele / Hearst Connecticut Media

Shelton schools will not open as scheduled on Tuesday, Sept. 3, prompting sharp attacks by residents and city officials on social media.

School Superintendent Dr. Chris Clouet announced about 3:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 30, that school will not open on Tuesday, Sept. 3, stating that “the city-run Shelton Student Transportation Services project is not ready.” Clouet said he anticipates school opening on Sept. 4.

“I don’t know how realistic that is,” said Board of Education Chairman Mark Holden about the possible Sept. 4 opening. “I hope it is, but the superintendent has yet to see information on how many drivers the city actually has, and because of the issue with the summer drivers, it is important to verify all that documentation. Hopefully (the city) is close.”

Clouet’s decision came only hours after kindergartners across Shelton went on practice bus runs. State Department of Motor Vehicles officials spent much of Friday, Aug. 30, inspecting drivers’ records, and Mayor Mark Lauretti pushed to subcontract drivers as all involved sought to guarantee school starting on Sept. 3, as planned.

Lauretti called the move political, saying the city is simply three drivers short, and all drivers in place have been certified by the DMV and the routes are ready.

But Clouet said that no one running the Shelton Student Transportation Service (SSTS) could confirm the city has enough drivers or that the drivers were certified, with drug tests and background checks, by DMV officials. Clouet said he called the SSTS office a dozen times Friday, Aug. 30, but was unable to verify that information, which led him to this decision to delay the start of school at least one day.

Democratic mayoral candidate John Harmon, who is attempting to end Lauretti’s 28-year run as the city’s top official, said Shelton’s “children deserve better than this.”

“The mayor insisted on taking responsibility for transporting our children to school this year,” said Harmon. “He’s had more than one year to prepare. Now, the weekend before school starts, we find out the city is not ready. This is outrageous.”

Harman said parents now, before a long holiday weekend, have to figure out how they are going to take care of their children on what they thought was going to be the first day of school.

“The mayor will try to blame anyone he can for this shameful failure of duty,” said Harmon. “He only has himself to blame. How much longer must we tolerate his shoddy performance?”

Incoming Shelton High School senior Matt McGee, a Democratic candidate for the Board of Aldermen’s third ward, said this is “what leadership by lawsuit will get you.”

Legal action, filed by the city against the Board of Education last year, led to an agreement in which the city would assume the student transportation operation.

“While I personally don’t mind the extra day off, the political establishment in this city has proven yet again that it views the education of its students as a costly burden, and that’s a shame,” added McGee. “The people of Shelton deserve better.”