The library at Blanco High School was crowded with veterans and community supporters at the September 9 meeting of BISD trustees. The outpouring of protest came in the wake of efforts of the school district to evict American Legion Post 352 and Auxiliary Unit 352 from a building directly behind Blanco Elementary School on 13th Street. The building, constructed by the American Legion as part of a 99-year lease agreement with the district back in 1948, has hosted school dances and school classes over the years, and has recently been renovated.
Three people spoke in Open Forum in support of the Legion Post. Matt Lewis, identifying himself as a local business owner, member of the Planning and Zoning Commission, and a Mason, urged the district to reconsider the eviction. “It is disconcerting for me,” he said, adding that the American Legion has served the community just as the Masons have, who donated the land for the school. “They have 36 years left on their lease—there should be an explanation,” for the sudden eviction, he said. “I want to show a lot of support for the American Legion,” he concluded. Bruce Huguelet, past commander of Post 352, spoke next. He called it “Historic Post 352” because LBJ was a lifelong member. Huguelet was instrumental in the revitalization of the Post several years ago. As a veteran of the Air Force Security Service and the son of a legionnaire, he said that the Legion “provided activities in high school that made a real difference in my life,” adding that it should be allowed to make a difference in the lives of Blanco’s youth. “This whole thing has been extremely disappointing,” he concluded.
Oscar Segura identified himself as a retired US Marine, wounded three times in combat in wars from Vietnam to the First Gulf War. “I don’t understand” the actions of the district, he said. “No one would give me a copy of the lease when I asked for it—there was nothing to read.” He reminded those in attendance that all VA benefits that veterans receive are a result of American Legion efforts, and that their activities with youth include scholarships and Boys’ and Girls’ State programs. At a local level, post members take other veterans to doctors’ appointments and ferry spouses to see their spouses in the hospital or provide gas money. As to the actions of the school board, Segura said, “We can still do it, we can suck it up, we’re tough; but why should we suck it up again, here in our own country. Why are we being stomped on again. It amazes me that we can do what y’all want us to do for the politicians and come back to be treated like second-class citizens, and I really really feel that that is a shame, especially coming from you, from the board, who are educators. Oh, we can have a building that takes $50K to rehab, but if it sells, we’re still out on the street. Did you enjoy the door prizes you won at our open house? There was a lot of man hours that went into that building,” he concluded.
Following Open Forum comments, Superintendent Dr. Buck Ford read a statement saying that the district “has attempted to work out its differences with the American Legion.” He acknowledged the contributions of the American Legion to the community but said the arrangement is “invalid and illegal” because it constitutes “a gift of public funds.” He said the district has offered the post another building and location, which, according to post members interviewed during Executive Session, is a portable classroom no longer needed by the district. He also said that “Blanco ISD’s best interests include the safety and security of its students and employees” and that the Post has enjoyed “the privilege of having rent-free access to a building on district property for the past 65 years. This is a privilege and entitlement not provided to any other community organization.” More information, including the status of legal transactions between the two entities are dealt with in a related article, “Lawsuit Filed Over American Legion Lease.”
The monthly Spotlight portion of the meeting featured Blanco High student Callie Nance, who participated in a program called “High School Aerospace Scholars” during her junior year, taking online courses during the spring semester in after-school hours. Principal Dr. Dustin Barton reported that she, along with 200 others, was ultimately chosen from 600 participants in Texas to attend a six-day workshop at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where she and her team designed a vehicle for a mission to Mars in collaboration with NASA scientist and coops/interns. She was the Point of Contact between her team and NASA personnel, to whom she made a final presentation of her team’s mission. Dr. Barton also reported that BHS FFA members earned over $330K in scholarships this past year, and that of the seven students who took the AP AB Calculus test, all earned scores of 3 or better out of a possible 5, thereby earning college credit for the class.
The District Personnel Spotlight recognized Director of Maintenance Tony Petri for his work in coordinating efforts in the recent, award-winning school renovation and modifications to the entrances of all three campuses for security. “Tony doesn’t seek or relish attention,” said Dr. Ford, “but through his leadership he pulled things together.” He added that the football field at graduation looked like a putting green at the Masters Golf Tournament. “We thank you for your hard work and applaud what you do for our district,” concluded Dr. Ford.
In his Superintendent’s Report, Dr. Ford announced two early release days—December 11 at noon to enable Blanco Middle School to host a District UIL meet, and March 26, 2014 at noon, when BHS will be hosting District UIL competition. He also gave congratulations to architect Randy Fromberg of Fromberg Assoc. for his work on the historic elementary school renovation and showed a video prepared by Fromberg of the historic building and newly-renovated campus. Blanco Elementary has been selected as the recipient of the 2013 Value Award by the TASA/TASB Architectural Exhibition.
With all members present, trustees voted not to nominate any candidates to the Kendall Appraisal District or the Hays Central Appraisal District. Trustees also approved the purchase of a new, 77-passenger school bus at a cost $83,348.00 from Longhorn Bus Sales, which is a member of the Buy Board Purchasing Cooperative, an interlocal contract.
Trustees then adjourned to Executive Session to consult with BISD attorney Paul Hunn in reference to pending litigation with American Legion Post 352. A number of community supporters who had just arrived waited in the entry foyer while trustees deliberated. However, no action was taken when the meeting reconvened.