By Olga Pena
Killeen Daily Herald
KEMPNER – A new high school in Lampasas may sound like good news, but for Kempner residents, it's a slap in the face.
The Lampasas Independent School District is asking voters to authorize a $43.4 million bond issue for a new, 1,600-student high school and renovations and additions to existing LISD school buildings in an election on Nov. 7.
The bond addresses overcrowding issues in Lampasas schools, but many Kempner residents say that's not the deal they expected.
For years, residents of eastern Lampasas County have pleaded with school officials for an elementary school in Kempner.
Children in the growing city board buses from 6 to 6:30 a.m. to go to school in Lampasas. They return home between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. – up to 11 hours later.
"These are little human beings. It's a terrible thing for a young child," said Walter Prugh, chairman of the Citizens For a Kempner School Coalition. "We have a lot of people here that are really unhappy."
Prugh, a retired justice of the peace who has lived in the area since 1964, has seven children who graduated from Lampasas High School. Though his children are now adults, Prugh said all citizens should feel responsible for the young people of their community.
"It's my job, when I see something wrong, to try to make it right," Prugh said.
For Emeraldine Gordon, who has three school-aged children, the bond issue is a case of broken promises.
"The school board has been promising for a while to get us a school over here," Gordon said. "They said a Kempner school would be in the bond issue, but now it's just the high school."
The Blue Ribbon Task Force, commissioned by the LISD, began meeting in September of 2004 with the mission of creating a report and recommending to the community how the LISD board of trustees could best serve the students and deal with overcrowding.
In 2005, the task force proposed a bond issue and long-range facility plan that maintained an elementary school in Kempner was first priority.
In June of 2006, the city of Kempner passed a resolution supporting the blue ribbon task force.
"Now is the time to start the process of obtaining an elementary school in the Kempner area, not years from now," the resolution states. "In support of the development of a Kempner elementary school, we, the council members of the City of Kempner, fully support the Blue Ribbon Task Force in their initiative."
Prugh said task force recommendations have been ignored, despite 18 buses transporting Kempner children every day.
"What really hurts me is when I see a young soldier with three children with tears in his eyes because they just can't hardly send their kids to school," Prugh said.
Gordon is familiar with the woes of loading children on a bus scheduled for a long, hot trip to and from Lampasas, where elementary and high school students are mixed together.
Matters are complicated, she said, with parents traveling back and forth to pick up sick children or get involved in school functions.
Gordon said such complications strain parents and children and deter prospective residents from moving to Kempner.
"There is a lot of growth to be had in the Kempner area, but folks don't want to move there because they don't want to have their children be so far away," said Gordon, a Kempner resident of four years.
LISD Superintendent Dr. Brant Myers said that, though he is aware of Kempner residents who feel they need an elementary school more urgently, the high school project is long overdue.
"We've been talking about the high school since the '70s," said Myers, who became superintendent in October 2005. He added that two previous high school bond elections in 1972 and 1978 failed.
LISD also has established a long-range facility plan that includes a new school in Kempner.
The Lampasas ISD entered into an agreement to purchase 30 acres of land in the Kempner area as part of the plan to build a school in the future.
The district's long-range plan proposes a timeline through 2020 and includes a bond election in 2012 to build an elementary school in east Lampasas County.
Prugh said six years is too long to wait. He said high school bond elections have failed in the past, and that is his hope for the Nov. 7 election as well.
The Kempner coalition has been busy since the LISD's bond election announcement on Sept. 8. Gordon has joined many Kempner residents in going door-to-door with flyers that read, "Vote NO on the LISD bond on November 7." The flyer advises residents that declining to vote could result in higher taxes for a school they don't need.
Prugh said he is committed to getting voters out to the polls, beginning with early voting on Oct. 23. However, he said, only 57 Kempner residents voted in the last school board election.
In the meantime, Myers said he is doing everything in his power to spread the word, regardless of a resident's stance on the bond issue.
"My job is to give voters the most information possible, so that they can make an educated decision," Myers said.
LISD will hold forums on the bond issue on Tuesday and Oct. 19 at 6 p.m. in the Lampasas High School cafeteria.
Citizens for a Kempner School will meet again on Oct. 19 at 7 p.m. at the Kempner Volunteer Fire Department Training Facility, behind the Main Kempner Fire Station, at 315 South Pecan Street.
Contact Olga Peña at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the web
n Citizens for a Kempner school:
n Lampasas ISD:
Tuesday at 6 p.m.– LISD Bond Issue Forum
Oct. 19 at 6 p.m. – LISD Bond Issue Forum
Oct. 10 – Last day to register to vote
Oct. 23 – First day of early voting
Nov. 7 – Bond Issue Election Day