Shelton school board wants transportation savings used for education

Exterior view of the Board of Education offices in Shelton, Conn. Nov. 5, 2020.

Exterior view of the Board of Education offices in Shelton, Conn. Nov. 5, 2020.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

SHELTON — Some Board of Education members are hoping to see potential savings in student transportation costs since in-person learning was suspended in November.

Board members Amanda Kilmartin and Diana Meyer are calling for the cost savings from the reduction in student transportation to be shifted to the education budget.

The city-run Shelton Student Transportation Service handles the district’s student transportation as part of a court-negotiated settlement. The deal calls for the Board of Education to pay the city $3.15 million annually to be its bus operator.

According to the agreement, if transportation costs are more than $3.15 million, the city covers the extra amount. Conversely, if costs are less than $3.15 million, the extra money stays with the city.

The district moved to remote learning on Nov. 11.

Shelton Student Transportation Services head Ken Nappi said some of the drivers have been laid off during this time. Some drivers have been retained as bus runs are still required for private and specialty schools, Nappi said.

"It is a shame that school bus drivers were laid off before the holidays during a difficult time,” Meyer said. “As of yet, the city has given the BOE no concessions in making full payment for bus services.”

Meyer said this also occurred in the spring when the schools switched to remote learning.

“I’m not sure where the money coming from the BOE was used by the city in the spring nor where they plan to use it now if it is not being used to pay drivers or buses that did not run,” Meyer added. “This is why it is important for the Board of A&T to meet in order to understand how funds are being spent within the city."

Mayor Mark Lauretti said the city saved some $700,000 last year in transportation costs by assuming control of the bus operation. While acknowledging the pandemic, which shuttered school buildings from mid-March to the end of the past school year, added to the savings, Lauretti said the city would have saved money either way.

“Some of these same board members were there when the board overspent its budget by $3 million ... some even supported that,” Lauretti said.

The extra money goes into a general fund that the Board of Education was instrumental in reducing to virtually zero with its overspending a few years ago, Lauretti said. The city filed a lawsuit against the Board of Education over the “overspending,” and that case is still pending.

“I always believed ... starting seven years ago ... that it we buy the buses and take over the transportation operation that we would see a significant savings. We’re proving that right now,” Lauretti added.

Board of Education Chairwoman Kathy Yolish, during the Board of Education Finance Committee meeting last month, asked if there was a fear that laid-off drivers would still be coming back once the district returns to in-building instruction, which is set to resume on Jan. 11.

Nappi said he has “no indication that (drivers) are not returning.”

Kilmartin asked for the BOE to receive any bus run cost savings and information about how the extra money could be used.

She also suggested that the central office review the negotiated settlement, in which there is language that outlines what the contractor, in this case the city, is obligated to pay for any failure to properly provide service.

Kilmartin asked if there could be “recoverable” money for issues such as buses not showing up or drivers not being available.

“We need every penny we can get,” Kilmartin said.

According to the budget dated Nov. 24 on the Shelton website, the city has spent $551,261 of the $3.15 million charged to the Board of Education.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com