By Hiroko Sato
TOWNSEND — A month after Pepperell schools announced they will no longer bus students to and from a Townsend day-care center, forcing some working families to scramble for alternative arrangements, the regional school district to which the town belongs said it found a way to continue the bus service.
An official from the North Middlesex Regional School District, which includes Pepperell, Townsend and Ashby, said the issue largely stemmed from a nearly $500,000 cut in state funding for regional transportation. But some parents say the core issue is a communication breakdown on the district’s part.
“It’s very frustrating to have this lack of communication,” said Francine Yencho, mother of a Pepperell first-grader. She received a letter from his school last month stating — without explanation — that busing would be discontinued.
“I think there are a lot of different stories” about why the service was to be discontinued, said Hollie Simao, director of the Rainbow Preschool and Child Care in Townsend.
But Gerald Martin, business director for the North Middlesex Regional School District, said this week that Varnum Brook Elementary School and Nissitissit Middle School will continue to have a bus stop at Rainbow on Route 119 in Townsend. The district has had a bus going there for two decades, according to Simao.
When Pepperell lost a bus route due to funding cuts, a manager of McCarty Bus of Townsend thought the company could no longer afford the time to go to the day-care center, Martin said. But a new manager figured it could, he said.
“I’m very happy if they decide to continue to do that,” Simao said.
Simao, however, said she is troubled that the 18 Pepperell families who have children attending Rainbow could not get straight answers when contacting the district, the School Committee and the bus company. Reasons offered for the service discontinuation ranged from a lack of bus funding to the bus route being too far, Simao said.
“Not one person said the same thing,” Simao said.
The frustrated families began collecting signatures for a petition to keep the bus coming to the day-care center.
“We got notified after the fact,” Yencho said of the school’s letter.
The letter went out to the parents on June 17, the day before the last day of classes, according to Simao. Families also began scouring for open slots at other day-care facilities.
If the 18 families pulled their children out of the day-care center, it would have had to lay off two teachers, said Simao.
Yencho, whose son suffers from autism, said it’s difficult to find a day care, especially one that fits some children’s needs. Yencho called both the school and McCarty, and was told that the decision came from the District Central Office.
But when Jonna Clermont, a School Committee member from Pepperell, contacted the bus company after receiving calls from some concerned parents, the manager told her the company had no problems sending a bus to Rainbow. Clermont said she relayed that to Martin, and the problem was solved.
“It’s a big problem in this district,” Clermont said of the lack of communication.
“I won’t feel comfortable until I have something in writing,” she said of the decision to continue with the bus service to Rainbow.