By Chelsea Feinstein
PEPPERELL -- The North Middlesex Regional School District is searching for alternative transportation for Pepperell students after the bus company that served families there filed for bankruptcy.
The company, Atlantic Express, is terminating its contract with the school district on Dec. 31 under the terms of the bankruptcy, according to a letter Superintendent Joan Landers emailed to parents last week.
After Dec. 31, regular bus service for Pepperell students could be interrupted if the district does not find another provider. Townsend and Ashby are served by a different bus company and will not be affected during regular service. However, Atlantic Express also provides athletic and late bus service, which could be affected.
On Monday night, the school committee held an emergency meeting to authorize the superintendent to negotiate transportation, which she is in the process of doing.
"They did authorize the superintendent to proceed with emergency procurement so she can pass forward a bid process to get someone in place for Jan. 2," said Nancy Haines, manager of financial operations for the district.
Haines also said the district is in talks with other companies and a solution was expected very soon, possibly as early as this week.
"We are at the end stages. It might even happen by the end of the day," Haines said Wednesday morning.
Haines also addressed concerns from some parents regarding a document on the district's website which says that bids will be accepted until Jan. 8, several days after the end of winter break.
Those bids are for a new contract that would start on June 30, when the old contract was originally scheduled to end, Haines said. The emergency transportation will start out as a six-month contract.
But as the school department works to fill the gap, parents are scrambling to find alternate methods of transportation for their children in case no agreement is reached.
Joanne Taylor's children have had the same bus driver for 14 years. Now she is concerned about what the bankruptcy could mean for their beloved driver.
Although she said she is confident that the school department is working to resolve the situation, having to provide another means of transport would be problematic.
"The thought of having to get up and drive my children to high school at 6:45 every morning is disquieting. I hope that my neighbors and I will work out a carpool, as we did when they were in band together," Taylor said.
Jeanne LeBlanc, whose children attend Nissitissit Middle School, said that while she wouldn't be too inconvenienced by having to drive to school, she is concerned about the potential impact on the school budget, which she describes as "already stretched thin."
Beyond that, she said, she is asking for something simple -- communication from the school district.
"The only thing I would like to see is a plan of action in place by the schools for the first week back after break. Those days will be very hectic if nothing more than the initial email message from the school is forthcoming before we go on break," she said.
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