Bus officials refute bus maintenance criticism, call letter’s accusations ‘false’

Photo of Brian Gioiele
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 —The city-owned bus company is refuting claims of poor bus maintenance and lack of a required safety officer made during a recent school board meeting.

Resident David Eldridge in a letter read at last month’s Board of Education meeting said that Shelton Student Transportation Services employees told him about buses running with no low lights, problems with bus radios, a student left on the bus and that the company was operating without a safety officer.

Superintendent Ken Saranich sent an email to parents earlier this week and provided information from the bus company which states each of the claims leveled by Eldridge was “false.”

"Every bus has to complete a pre-check inspection form prior to running,” Saranich stated in his email to parents. “If there is an issue, it is reported to the bus yard mechanic who addresses the issue and completes this paperwork that is submitted and filed.”

“We’re satisfied,” said John Fitzgerald, chair of the Board of Education’s ad hoc building, grounds and transportation committee, about the information provided by the bus company concerning each accusation.

Eldridge also asked about an incident on Feb. 5 when a child was allegedly found on the bus when it had finished its route and returned to the bus yard.

Saranich said at last month’s Board of Education meeting that incident was “handled immediately,” and the bus company immediately disciplined the bus employees involved. The employees were also required to attend mandatory retraining.

“Given the history of Shelton and ... its subpar maintenance of its fleet of vehicles, it’s important to follow up on any complaints that are reported,” Eldridge told Hearst Connecticut Media Wednesday. “Although it’s more disturbing to learn that a child was left on a bus and that is just unacceptable at any and all levels.”

Eldridge’s letter said he learned of several of the safety concerns from a bus company employee.

“I feel that (with) the work environment at the City of Shelton bus company, employees might be reluctant to come forward in fear of losing their job,” Eldridge stated in his letter. “Since these issues are related to the safety of our children, I felt it was important to inform the Board of Education as the oversight authority for our school buses.”

Fitzgerald, who said he speaks daily with bus company Director Ken Nappi, confirmed that SSTS conducted a review of all bus paperwork on file for the last quarter and found no issues that matched Eldridge’s complaint.

“Last month, the DOT conducted their inspection of the buses and paperwork on files and no irregularities were found,” Saranich stated in his email update to parents. “Included in all of this, every bus must pass a maintenance inspection every three months or 3,000 miles.”

Fitzgerald said the bus radio systems do work properly, contradicting Eldridge’s claim drivers are told to use their cellphones because of inadequate equipment.

Saranich’s email stated SSTS uses NORCON for its radio service, and that a company representative recently came out, per SSTS’s request, to inspect the repeater located on the roof of Shelton High.

“There are no reported problems with their system,” Saranich said in the email. “Along with all bus inspections, working radios are required on all buses.”

Saranich said SSTS informed board and district officials that the City of Shelton does have four identified “dead zones” that radios cannot reach.

“If at any point in time, a driver needs to contact the bus company, in an emergency, and happens to be traveling in a ‘dead zone,’ they are instructed to pull the vehicle over and use their cell phone,” Saranich added. “This is only instructed as a result of an emergency.”

Regarding the safety officer position, Saranich said the bus company had two safety officers, but one recently died. The other had been offered a job at Durham School Services, a rival bus company, but the city matched the offer and retained her services.

The bus company has also hired an individual to fill the second safety officer position, he said.