Community split on whether Chambers Co. School System should consolidate high schools

Published 6:01 pm Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Chambers County community appears to be split on the idea of consolidating LaFayette High and Valley High into one high school, according to survey results that the Chambers County School System released Wednesday.

The survey data was presented at two community meetings — one Monday in Valley and another Tuesday in LaFayette.

A total of 1,607 people responded to the questionnaire. Most respondents considered themselves affiliated with Valley High School (718) followed by W.F. Burns Middle School (552) and Fairfax Elementary (342).

Email newsletter signup

On the survey, the question of “would you support consolidating Valley and LaFayette High Schools into a new facility in a new location” was the first one posed, with answers being split almost down the middle. Thirty-seven percent said yes and 40 percent responded no. Twenty-three percent said they needed more information before making a definitive decision.

Parents, grandparents and guardians of students greatly outnumbered other respondent demographics, having completed 46 percent of all surveys. Residents and school faculty followed with 19 percent and 16 percent, respectively. Students made up 7 percent of all respondents with alumni contributing 13 percent.

The site of where the new school could possibly be was another point of contention.

Forty-two percent favored a new site between LaFayette and Valley High Schools with 34 percent rather having a new site that would be as close as possible to the center of the student population.

In considering what would happen to the existing high schools after consolidation, 54 percent of people said they would like to see them repurposed as middle schools.

Though it is within a separate school district, the survey also allowed respondents to consider including Lanett High School in the consolidation. Forty-nine percent of the total respondents thought it was a good idea, with 53 percent of Lanett respondents thinking it was as well.

“It was encouraging to me because I have been superintendent now for eight years and this is the first time that number of people have come out for anything,” said Superintendent Dr. Kelli Hodge. “The main thing people want to know is what is the location, what is it going to look like and what time zone will it be in. Those were the big questions.”

Those who took the survey were also asked how they would prefer this potential project to be funded.

The wide majority of people strongly disliked the idea of property and income tax increases, with over half of respondents preferring capital fund and other non-tax increase methods.

Other concerns came from the question of “what consolidation means to you.”

Conflicts with existing time-zone schedules were the primary concern of respondents, followed closely by longer bus rides, larger class sizes and existing “school pride” being diminished by the schools combining.

All concerns and further specifics will be discussed in further meetings and in-depth surveys based on what was brought up by those who spoke at the town hall meetings.

Hodge assured respondents that this survey was only the first step on the path to making a decision.

Also, according to Hodge Wednesday night, focus groups made up of parents, teachers and students will be formed to collect input in the coming months.

“We can’t make the decisions for them,” said school board member Chris Busby Wednesday night. “They’re shaping their own future, we don’t need to do it for them. I think it’s really important that they are heard.”