By Veronica Morley
Lamont residents packed the Kern High School District board chambers Monday in a standing-room only meeting as they pled for trustees to approve the construction of a high school in their town.
KHSD has been exploring the possibility of building a high school in Lamont for months, after residents there began raising concerns about overcrowding at Arvin High School, cramped buses and a challenging lunch hour that some parents said didn’t allow their kids enough time to get a meal.
District officials denied those issues, however, and would not produce a viable plan to construct a school in that town, citing a lack of funding and projected enrollment figures that were too low to sustain a high school, according to Scott Cole, Deputy Superintendent of Business.
“We don’t have the funding or the population to build a new school,” KHSD Board President Phillip Peters said toward the end of the evening. “Everything I’ve seen in this meeting has convinced me of that.”
Most students who live in Lamont travel eight-to-10 miles to attend Arvin High School. Many are bused.
Some residents, however, said there were not enough school buses to either pick up students in a timely manner or to seat all students comfortably.
“It’s very hard because if my child misses the bus at Arvin High, or at the bus stop because he woke up late, he will miss the bus and there’s no way for the bus to come back for him. So if you miss the bus either your parent has to take you or you miss the whole day,” said Gina Guzman, a Lamont resident.
The overcrowding at Arvin High School also makes it difficult for students to get their lunches quickly, parents said.
“From experience I already know what it’s like to go to Arvin High, with the overcrowding and all the myriad of problems that come with it,” said Jennifer Azpitarte who lived in Lamont before graduating.“We deserve the same right as other students to have that transportation, to have a school that we could walk to. To be able to have to same high school experience that other people already have. We shouldn’t have to fight for it.”
“I can’t take the bus in the morning and I have to take carpools because it’s just too crowded. And it’s really cold in the morning. And the times that you have to get up is just something that like the students don’t have to be dealing with,” said Emily Azpitarte.
Emily said that most mornings she would wake up between 5:40 a.m. and 6 a.m. in order to catch be on time for the bus. Likewise, Guzman must wake her son between 5 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. in order to catch his bus. Guzman said that many times her son is in such a rush he is unable to eat a substantial breakfast.
The board recognized the obstacles, regarding buses and adequate lunch time, and said it claimed to have resolved the issues. to the best of their knowledge. The district has since added Cole claimed in a presentation that they had added six new buses, six new bus drivers, and since then, that reports since Jan. 8 have shown that Lamont students were picked up and arrived at school on time, Cole said.
Arvin High also added 15 outdoor tables with umbrellas to address the seating issues at lunch. No student at Arvin High waited longer than 15 minutes for a meal, Cole said.
Two trustees — Phillips and Mike Williams — said a high school in Lamont didn’t seem like an immediate reality. However, one of their colleagues — Bryan Batey —received an uproar of applause when he questioned the board inability to build a high school in Lamont. He suggested it would not be out of the question to build a school and fill it with students from Lamont and Arvin. He offered that if the board could not do anything immediately for Lamont, then they should devise a plan with benchmarked goals towards building a school in the future, Batey said.
“If were saying we’re not going to do anything until we get 4,000 students at Arvin, that is never going to work,” Batey said.