Smooth ride from here? Board chair discusses transportation agreement

Mayor Mark Lauretti and Schools Supt. Dr. Christopher Clouet signed off on a school transportation agreement last week, settling a lawsuit filed by the City against the Board of Education.

Still, it may not be an entirely smooth ride from here, according to Board of Education Chairman Mark Holden, who said this week there is still a “wild card” when it comes to the agreement and what it may cost the City and the school board.

“Overall, I think it's fair to say there are aspects of the agreement that each side can like and hate,” Holden said. “In theory, that should mean it's fair, but, the wild card is Durham [which provides school transportation services] was not involved in the negotiation and we don't know how they will respond.”

Initially, the City filed the lawsuit alleging the BOE violated the City Charter’s bidding procedures when it negotiated and eventually entered into a contract with Durham School Services. At the time, the Board of Education said the City failed to give a written proposal for transportation and, in order to meet state statutes, the board decided to enter into a contract with Durham.

Durham had tried to work out an agreement to lease City-owned buses after it negotiated a contract with the Board of Education, according to Holden. He said Durham was later told it would not have use of City of Shelton buses.The company then spent some $660,000 on 10 new buses and additional money for drivers to transport those buses to the area, Holden said.

Under the terms of the new agreement, the City of Shelton will lease its buses for $1 to Durham for the 2018-19 school year. This requires the BOE to renegotiate the contract with Durham.

Per the agreement, the BOE and City will later enter into a three-year contract for transportation services, from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2022.

Holden said Durham can potentially seek damages for the costs it incurred in buying the new buses. Or, the company can add the costs to a renegotiated one-year contract.

Both Durham and the BOE can choose to invoke a clause within the contract that would allow either party to exit within 90 days from the day the contract started. That means Durham could opt out of the contract when school is already back in session, in early fall.

The settlement with the City is clear on how potential costs from Durham will be covered. The BOE and City would share any additional renegotiated Durham contract costs on a 50% basis, up to a maximum of $150,000. Anything above that will be the responsibility of the BOE.

If Durham seeks damages, the City has agreed to hold the the BOE harmless for all claims. “Payments to Durham by the City shall not in any way prejudice the Board’s budget for the 2019-2020 school year, provided that the Board of Education shall exercise the 90-day notice of termination clause in its contract with Durham … ,” the agreement states.

The City’s cost projections for providing transportation services, starting in 2019, are appealing to the board, Holden said. The City promises it will not exceed a $3.15 million a year cost to the BOE.

The settlement states the City can also later determine it is unable to provide the services under the contract and the BOE would send it out to bid.

Holden said the board is eager to move forward and hear from Durham representatives on what may be the company’s next step.

“I'm cautiously optimistic things will work out OK,” Holden said.