By Katina Caraganis

MediaNews

LUNENBURG -- School administrators have gone back out to bid for a new busing contract because the district's current company, Atlantic Express Transportation, has filed for debt relief and is unable to fulfill its contract.

The district received notification in November that Atlantic Express filed voluntary petitions for debt relief under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code and would be suspending all bus service to districts after Dec. 31.

Superintendent of Schools Loxi Jo Calmes, along with other administrative staff, have been working to develop a contingency plan to continue transportation within the district should the bankruptcy court allow the contract to be dissolved.

"We've been able to protect the interests of the district so far," she said. That includes, according to Calmes, filing the necessary documentation in court so its contract does not get lost in the shuffle.

The transportation contract was awarded to Atlantic Express a year and a half ago, Calmes said, and they were one of the only companies who bid at the time.

To date, she said, there have been requests from five transportation companies for the contract, and at least three of them have picked up bid packages.

Bid packages are due back by Dec. 30 at 4 p.m., when they will be opened and the contract will be awarded, Calmes said.

School Committee Chairman Gregory Berthiaume said the process has been complicated because the district did not know if another transportation company was going to buy Atlantic's existing contracts.

"There was a chance someone would purchase the contract, and if we had already gone out to bid and awarded the contract, we would have had two separate contracts," he said.

Berthiaume will be present when the bids are opened and will sign on behalf of the committee to award the contract.

The district lets out for winter break Dec. 20, Calmes said, and that will be the last day Atlantic transports students to and from school. The company has agreed, however, to transport students to athletic competitions previously scheduled during the break.

Calmes said she plans to do everything she can to retain the services of the local bus drivers affected by the shutdown.

"We've reached out to the local drivers, who are interested in continuing doing the routes but need a bus to do so," she said. "We have their contact information to reach them. Obviously we'd like that. We highly value their services and they have taken good care of our students."

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