School district hosts forum on potential consolidation

Published 8:30 pm Wednesday, April 24, 2019

VALLEY — Two of the biggest questions were answered Wednesday about the potential consolidation of LaFayette High School and Valley High School.

Greg Ellis of Cooperative Strategies, a firm hired by the school district to survey potential costs, said a consolidated high school would cost between $70 and $80 million, and it would operate on the central time zone. He said it would take an additional $10 to $15 million to convert the existing LaFayette and Valley High School buildings into spaces for middle schools.

“It would create one school that is on par with other school systems around the state,” Ellis said.

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Other options discussed would be to renovate all elementary and middle schools in the district at a cost of $98 million. That process would involve bringing all schools up to current building codes and fixing structural issues. Renovating just the high schools would cost about $70 million, but it would leave the Chambers County Career Tech building as a separate building.

If there were a new high school, the Career Tech building would be included on that campus, Ellis said.

As for the school system operating on the central time zone, parents were concerned about having to get their kids to schools and getting to work an hour later than current times.

Hodge said the school district in Smiths Station converted its school district to central time with a portion of its students living in the eastern time zone. She said if the district moved forward with consolidation, it would study how Smiths Station dealt with that issue.

“The majority of the county geographically is on central time,” she said.

The school district’s main office in LaFayette also operates on central time.

Ellis also presented the crowd with four “site zones,” which were not specific in nature, but explained to parents about average travel time for students. He said the study did not look at specific pieces of property.

The first site zone was near exit 70 on Interstate 85 in Cusseta. He said 92 percent of students in Valley and LaFayette would have a travel time of 16 to 20 minutes or less at this site.

The second site looked at moving toward Highway 50 between Valley and LaFayette. Ellis said 83 percent of students would have a travel time of 20 minutes or less. The third site mentioned would be further east from Highway 50 moving toward Valley. Ellis said the number of students with a travel time of 20 minutes or less would be in the upper 80s, and just about 100 percent of students would have a travel time of less than 25 minutes.

The fourth potential site discussed was even further east, and again, about 80 percent of students would have less than a 20-minute travel time.

Hodge said the travel times discussed did not take bus travel into account.

At the onset of the meeting, Hodge told parents that the school district will not pursue a property tax increase for a consolidated high school. She said the district would pursue other funding avenues like a workforce development grant, but it would need current funding allocations to remain the same.

Hodge said if the district pursued a consolidated high school, it would be able to borrow up to $47 million due to eliminating the duplication of services. If the district decides to renovate current facilities, she said it would only be able to borrow about $30 million.

One of the questions from the crowd centered on the academic enhancements that a consolidation would bring. Hodge said that not only would students have access to different ways of learning in the classroom than they have now, but students at the Career Tech Center would receive about 118 hours additional instructional hours a year because they wouldn’t have to be transported back and forth to the facility in LaFayette.

“Increased instructional time is huge, but also with the new facility includes more access to resources as well. We know that different kids learn in different ways, and we need to be providing more than just the way that we learned when we went to school,” Hodge said.

Wednesday’s meeting was still considered an open forum as Hodge said the Board of Education has not come to a decision about what it wants to do. She said the board could decide to consolidate without asking for any input, but chose to get community feedback.

“However, the board wanted to make sure they listened to what people’s concerns were and that we looked at the different avenues of the elementary, middle and high schools, and what would be the best option,” Hodge said. “There has been no recommendation made to the board yet at this time.”

She said she can’t give a timeline on when a decision will be made.

A second open forum will be held at 6 p.m. CT, Wednesday at the ALFA Building in LaFayette.