Shelton school board taking closer look at bus complaints

Photo of Brian Gioiele
City of Shelton school buses parked in Shelton, Conn. June 7, 2018.

City of Shelton school buses parked in Shelton, Conn. June 7, 2018.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

SHELTON — The Board of Education has tasked the administration to formally log parents’ bus complaints as it plans to closely monitor the city-run bus company’s ability to get students to and from school.

The board’s Grounds and Transportation Committee, at its meeting Wednesday, instructed Superintendent Ken Saranich to resume preparing a monthly spreadsheet on complaints made via email or phone to the central office.

Saranich said that his staff already records and investigates all complaints, but at the board’s request he would create a formal presentation each month for review.

This move comes only six days into the new school year, with parents voicing anger over overcrowded buses, missed stops and late runs, along with allegations of a 5-year-old dropped off alone in the downtown area.

“Keeping the bus logs was very important to see exactly what and where the main problems occurred with the buses,” Board of Education Chair Kathy Yolish said.

Mayor Mark Lauretti said that the Shelton Student Transportation Service (SSTS) is in “much better shape than most municipalities,” referring to the bus driver shortages being experienced throughout the country.

Lauretti said the lack of drivers has not prevented the company from servicing all routes, but has affected the ability to handle end-of-day drop offs while simultaneously getting athletes to sporting events at other schools.

“The state legislature needs to stop increasing requirements for bus drivers or supply the resources to help get them certified in a timely way,” Lauretti said about finding drivers.

Saranich said away games on Monday and Tuesday had to be rescheduled due to transportation issues. He noted that Shelton is not alone in this. Milford needed to change the time of a Friday game in Shelton because its bus company — Durham — could not make the scheduled time due to lack of drivers.

“The sports programs have to be modified timewise. It’s no big deal, we just can’t conflict with school pick up,” Lauretti said. “It’s not buses, it’s (lack of) drivers. (It is a) universal problem in America. We have plenty of buses.”

Board member Amanda Kilmartin said the biggest disappointment with the bus situation is how local leaders have managed the driver challenges.

“Shortages have been a problem since 2019, before any of us ever heard of COVID, and rather than making any real attempt at resolving the issues, they have resorted to excuses and finger-pointing,” Kilmartin said.

Kilmartin said a complaint log is “non-negotiable at this point.

“I wish we’d started tracking the issues earlier because it helps us look at trends and provides data that we can use to see how our challenges compare to those in other districts,” Kilmartin said. “We understand that there is a national driver shortage, but I am unaware of any other districts that have suffered the missteps we have. The log will also certainly come in handy when it comes time to put the bus contract back out to bid next year.”

The board first asked the administration for a complaint log in February, with central office staff formally tracking data on bus incidents, including missed pickups, non-performance, and any other reported infractions.

At that time, the board also renewed the committee assignments for the transportation and building and grounds committees. These panels are currently made up of board members John Fitzgerald, the chair, Jim Orazietti and Diana Meyer.

“My plan is to work with the superintendent, committee members and (SSTS Director) Ken Nappi to review the log information monthly and collaboratively work together to discuss and find solutions to eliminate those problems to our best ability,” Yolish said.

Yolish said board members, Saranich and Nappi are talking every day, and Orazietti and Fitzgerald are also meeting with the Mayor and Nappi regularly.

“We are not looking to be confrontational and are hoping to improve in resolving any situation that needs to be addressed,” Yolish said. “Busing upgrades may be coming in the future which will eliminate the problems we are experiencing.”

Yolish said she also plans to begin riding the buses herself periodically to “see for myself the protocols that are followed and thus be able to share with the board and community members what I experienced.”

She said the city’s bus drivers are “truly cautious and caring and I know how hard they work.”

She is hopeful that she will be allowed to ride the buses and report back to the board.

Yolish said she and fellow school representatives Saranich, chief of operations Carole Pannozzo and Fitzgerald met for two hours with Nappi on Sept. 10.

The meeting, she said, was “to address concerns and work on strategies” to improve bus service.

“The board has paid for a routing program, as well as employed a bus liaison to offer support, thus complying with the city’s expectations,” Yolish said. “We will continue to monitor the transportation situation each day and assist in remedying in whatever way possible.”

The Sept. 10 meeting was held less than a day after parent Lizzy Cameron filed a police report after her 5-year-old son was allegedly dropped off after school Thursday alone on Howe Avenue. The incident is also being investigated by the state Department of Children and Families, Cameron said.

Nappi said he was unable to comment as the matter remains under investigation. Saranich said the incident is now a personnel matter and he also was unable to comment.

Those seeking to report bus issues should email ksaranich@sheltonpublicschools.org.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com