A Kern High School District board meeting turned heated Monday when more than 200 Lamont residents loaded onto school buses and traveled to Bakersfield, accusing trustees of ignoring their community for not building a campus in their town after months of continued lobbying.
The outpouring of support is the most overwhelming public showing since Lamont residents began advocating for a campus months ago. Community leaders say a campus is essential as students from Lamont must travel to Arvin High, which has experienced growing enrollment.
“I've grown concerned with comments made, which makes us wonder if you’re truly dedicated to building a comprehensive high school in the Lamont area,” Vineland School District Superintendent Matthew Ross told trustees. “On three occasions, you’ve referred to Lamont as ‘your community,’ referring to us as if you are not part of the community.”
So far, trustees have not purchased any land in Lamont, citing concerns over abundant floodplains that makes construction difficult, a dearth of funding and a lack of students needed for enrollment.
“This situation is certainly not ideal but the reality is we don’t have the funding or the enrollment we need to support a school out there,” board president Phillip Peters said, suggesting the district take up the issue again sometime in the future as the area sees more growth.
There was no formal vote on the matter Monday; however, the district did offer a report on how it will prepare for growth in the southeast.
Jose Gonzales, the president of the Lamont Chamber of Commerce and a community advocate who has been spearheading the construction of the school, said his community has been ignored by KHSD.
“Our community needs to be supported by this district — not ignored,” Gonzales said, urging trustees to visit Lamont and see the need. “Unfortunately, you guys don’t pay attention to our community.”
Trustee Mike Williams, citing budget constraints and limited state matching funds for construction, suggested Monday that Lamont residents lobby Sacramento for more funding.
“If they’ll fund it for Lamont, I’ll vote for it in a snap,” Williams said. “But there’s a limited amount of income.”
Districts across the state passed more than $60 billion in bond measures in 2016; however, the state has just $4 billion in matching funds for construction projects, KHSD Deputy Superintendent of Business Scott Cole said.
Trustee Joey O’Connell suggested the district purchase land proactively as growth continues and Trustee Bryan Batey explored creative busing solutions that would even out enrollment among schools.
Williams also recommended the existing districts in the area band together to form a unified district and build their own school. He later suggested the district allow Lamont residents to have their own bond election, and if residents in that area want a school, they can fund it themselves — without the financial assistance from the rest of the property owners in the sprawling KHSD.
The students in Lamont, Ross said, deserve better than previous suggestions board members have floated, including enrolling them in Kern Learn, a blended online home-school model, or rallying for a charter school to open in the town.
“At what point will our children not be required to take a backseat to other children?” Ross asked. “You have a choice, and I know it’s not an easy choice … look at the faces and listen to the beating hearts of these children behind the comments and decisions you make here. Our children deserve more than they’re being offered.”