The Kern High School District isn't cooperating, so the Lamont High School booster club will just go it alone.
The proponents of a new public high school to serve the unincorporated Kern County farm town just southeast of Bakersfield, and serve them alone, have taken a new tack: They want to create a new unified, K-12 school district.
And that's news to at least one of the school superintendents whose district would be swallowed whole by the new entity.
Lamont residents have been trying to convince the KHSD to build a high school in Lamont since 2006, and the current group of proponents, led by Lamont Chamber of Commerce President Jose Gonzalez, for more than two years.
But the school district — in a state of near-continuous expansion due to the area's relentless pace of growth — has been compelled to keep looking elsewhere for new school sites. The numbers don't justify a Lamont High School right now, the district's trustees maintain, even if Lamont's community pride does.
So Gonzalez and a group of Lamont business owners are looking into the possibility of merging the two existing K-8 school districts in their community, the Lamont Elementary School District and the Vineland School District, into what would eventually be a single K-12 district.
"The parents in the community want to move it forward," Gonzalez said Tuesday. "Typically, when you have unification, the administration (of the existing districts) are the ones with the challenge."
And, indeed, Cindy Castro, who took over just three months ago as superintendent at Vineland, doesn't see the need. Arvin High School, about 10 miles to the southeast, provides a fine education to the 900-plus Lamont-area students who attend, she said.
"I know so many successful people who have come out of Arvin High School," said Castro, who admitted being "blind-sided" by the unification proposal. "The program is just excellent there. Lawyers, farmers, business owners — many success stories. They have a great staff there, a dedicated staff, and those Arvin alumni — they are strong."
She is also concerned about what a unified Lamont school district would do to the identity and history of the Vineland district, which educated the migrant children of the Dust Bowl-era Sunset Labor Camp.
Arvin High Assistant Principal Stephen Granucci concurs with Castro's assessment of Arvin High's successes. The flip side, he said, is that students at both Arvin High and the new Lamont high school would suffer.
The diminished ADA state funding "would decrease (academic) opportunities for both groups of students," he said.
Lamont high school advocates could initiate the unification process, however, with the verified signatures of just 5 percent the voters in each of the two K-8 school districts. The school districts themselves could also initiate the process.
The Lamont Chamber of Commerce has hired the Los Angeles consulting firm Justice & Associates to study the possibility of a unified school district. The firm is looking at enrollment adequacy, community identity, division of property among the existing districts, potential risks of discrimination and segregation, the cost to the state, existing programs that might be affected, construction costs, possible effect on property values, and whether the unification would have a negative effect on the fiscal management of either existing district or the new one.
The KHSD has purchased land for a new high school at the corner of East Panama Lane and Cottonwood Road, not far from Golden Valley High School, citing the area's anticipated growth. The still-unnamed school, set to open in August 2022, is expected to serve as many as 2,500 students.
Lamont, feeling snubbed by that decision, would be following the course that McFarland took in 1979-80 when it formed the McFarland Unified School District. But the district has had financial issues associated with the community's low property values and other factors.
Gonzalez prefers to point to the Tulare County community of Farmersville, which in 1998-99 unified its school districts into a single entity that now has 2,559 students, of which 718 attend Farmersville High School.
A Lamont Unified School District would have about 4,800 students, he said, of which 1,100 would attend a Lamont high school. Most of those students now attend Arvin, although some who would theoretically attend a Lamont high school are now at Mira Monte and Golden Valley. The new high school would also dip into the Lamont pool.
The Lamont student base is roughly the same as Tehachapi schools, Gonzalez said. The Tehachapi Unified School District has 4,307 students, of which 1,249 attend Tehachapi High School.
"So it is it doable," he said. "If we took a look at Lamont compared to Farmersville, we'd see that the greater Lamont area is actually much bigger, and Farmersville was able to formulate their own school district. And then look at Tehachapi."
Which example is Lamont more likely to follow? McFarland or Farmersville? That's one way to look at the debate, which is apparently not going away anytime soon.