Shelton turns to technology to alleviate school bus complaints

A City of Shelton school bus at Sunnyside Elementary School, in Shelton, Conn. Oct. 13, 2020.

A City of Shelton school bus at Sunnyside Elementary School, in Shelton, Conn. Oct. 13, 2020.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

SHELTON — School and bus company staffers are beginning training on new software which, when implemented early next year, officials believe will alleviate parents’ concerns about student transportation.

Board of Education Vice Chair James Orazietti, at the board’s meeting Wednesday, said that staffers will begin training on the Traversa student transportation software on Sept. 28 at the district’s central office. The technology upgrade, which will be implemented in January, has been in the works since July, according to Mayor Mark Lauretti.

“We’ve been implementing a lot of things. This is going to be a very user-friendly system,” Orazietti said.

Orazietti said students were the most important thing to consider.

“It’s all about safety first when it comes to students. I feel that this new program will put us leaps and bounds ahead of so many other districts,” he said.

This announcement comes days into the new school year, during which time parents have voiced anger toward the city-owned Shelton Student Transportation Service (SSTS) over crowded buses, missed stops and late runs, along with allegations that a 5-year-old was dropped off alone in the downtown area.

“With this new technology, parents will know where their child is all the time, where the bus is all the time,” Lauretti said, adding that the new technology will be key in eliminating many of the complaints raised by parents.

“We’re very excited about the new software that the mayor and Board of Education are going ahead with,” said SSTS Director Ken Nappi. “The drivers I have talked to are excited, too. The added features will aid in their responsibility to get kids to and from school on time.”

The software includes the ability for parents to track their child’s bus on their phone, he said.

“They will know where their child’s bus is. They will know where their child is on the bus. They will know when their child gets to school,” Orazietti said. “This is going to be one of the most update-to-date systems.”

Board member Carl Rizzo said the GPS tracking aspect of the program is the biggest benefit.

“Parents will know where their student is. They’ll know where the buses are,” Rizzo added.

Rizzo also asked, as the software is implemented early next year, for parents to be patient as school and bus company staffers become acclimated to the new software.

Lauretti said work began before this past school year with the updating of routes, a move that dropped some 500 names from the list and made it possible to consolidate routes. The new technology, he said, will include the one-time purchase of hardware to be installed in all buses. The city will pay an annual licensing fee for the software.

“We have enjoyed a significant savings the past two years,” Lauretti said, “So paying for this is not an issue.”

This is the third year of the three-year contract between the city and Board of Education for student transportation. In a court-ordered settlement, the Board of Education pays the city $3.1 million annually, with the city covering any overage in that amount

Lauretti said the Board of Education has seen savings of $1.6 million over the two years of the city running student transportation.

“The savings are real,” Lauretti said. “And we’re using it for upgrades that should have been done years ago. We’re behind the curve. We inherited these issues but we are correcting them.

Lauretti said that historically at the beginning of every school year bus routes can be inaccurate, and drivers need to settle into a routine.

“Overall, I think our bus service has outperformed most others in the state. By and large, we are on target,” he said. “I don’t care what the complainers say. They can only complain. We are solving problems.”

Board Chair Kathy Yolish said the district has already spent $12,650 on updating the bus transportation routing system and $49,000 to hire Alyssa DiTullio as the new bus liaison.

The board’s Grounds and Transportation Committee, at its meeting last week, instructed Superintendent Ken Saranich to resume preparing a monthly spreadsheet on complaints made via email or phone to the central office to formally monitor the city-owned bus company’s service.

“Yes, we’re keeping a log, but that is not all we’re doing,” Rizzo said. “There are problems now, but we are trying to be proactive.”

In addition, Orazietti said members of the board’s Building Grounds and Transportation Committee, along with Saranich, will meet with or speak to Nappi on a daily basis for regular updates on the bus service.