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Fire destroys charter school's new bus

The founder of the year-old school had picked up the bus just last month. It was supposed to take students to nearby parks.

By BEN MONTGOMERY
Published September 3, 2006


RIVERVIEW - When they were trying to raise money to get this school going, the parents at Kid's Community College sold chocolate, first-aid kits and raffle tickets for Bucs seats.

Mark Buiers, whose daughter is in first grade, built the bookshelves for the library to save money. His wife, Karen, volunteered to teach art and brought her own supplies.

"We feel very responsible for it," Karen said. "The vision of this school is our vision."

So when they learned that someone apparently sneaked through the darkness and set fire to the new school bus early Saturday morning, it was like a crime against all of them.

When the sun came up and word spread, the parents brought their kids to the year-old charter school on Lake St. Charles Boulevard. They stood outside the caution tape and stared at the charred 12-seat bus, which wasn't much more than tires and burnt fiberglass.

"It looks like something you'd see in Iraq," said parent Karen Seder, who spent the morning crying and thinking of ways to raise more money.

Tim Kilpatrick, the school's founder, said the bus fire is not the first vandalism on school property, which is in a new commercial strip near a middle-class neighborhood.

Last year, someone smashed windows in a van and twice the school's playground equipment was stolen, he said.

This, though, is harder to stomach.

"There is a lot of hurt and anger, naturally," Kilpatrick said. "They hurt something we worked so hard to get."

The 161-student school, with classes from prekindergarten through third grade, paid $42,000 for the bus, which was purchased to take kids to nearby parks for physical education. Kilpatrick picked it up 20 days before the fire. The school's sports equipment - kickballs, tennis racquets and jump-ropes - was inside the bus when the blaze began.

The Sheriff's Office was investigating the fire Saturday as a suspicious incident. Sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said no other incidents of vandalism were reported in the area.

Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@sptimes.com or 813 661-2443.