Chambers County School District holds community meetings on consolidation

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, February 9, 2022

At two community meetings held Monday night, the Chambers County School District revealed the results of a task force, which discussed the idea of consolidating schools in an effort to save money and better utilize space.

The first meeting was at the Sportsplex in Valley, and the second one was at the ALFA Insurance building in LaFayette. Several options were discussed at each meeting.

For Option A for secondary schools, CCSD high schools would be consolidated until a new high school was built. No specific information was given on the new high school. LaFayette High School would be converted into a Pre-K through eighth grade STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) academy. J. P. Powell Middle School, Five Points School and Eastside Elementary School would be closed. LaFayette High School would be renovated, and minor renovations would be made to Valley High School. This plan could save the school district $205,200.

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Option C for secondary schools is roughly the same as Option A. However, CCSD high schools would be consolidated after the new high school would be built. W. F. Burns Middle School would be moved to Valley High School, and the old W. F. Burns facility would be closed. The school district could potentially save $205,200 through this plan.

“We are at a crossroads with our district, and we are in a situation to where we need to make some decisions that are best for our kids and our schools,” CCSD Superintendent Casey Chambley said at the meeting in Valley. “And one of our major goals here is to be transparent and to be open with you, the community.”

Chambley said the school district had hired consultant Tracy Richter from Hoar Program Management (HPM) and consulting firms CBG Strategies and Unite to assist the task force in making decisions. He emphasized that the decisions the school district is making and trying to make are data-driven.

Richter delivered a presentation on how CCSD could be improved. He said CCSD needed a facilities management plan.

“Tonight is about planning,” he said. “It’s about trying to get to a decision that then drives a community discussion around implementation.”

Richter said a major goal for CCSD was to minimize racial segregation for the sake of unitary status.

“We have to achieve what are called green factors when you try to reach unitary status,” he said. “Some of those are making sure you’re plus or minus 15 percent within the school district race breakdown of each school as best as we can, if you can come within that. Your faculty and staff assignment has to be the same. And so, good hiring policies. Transportation has to have things in place to make sure equitable transportation and services are provided.”

He explained a decision triangle that illustrates the difficulty of balancing different needs in managing a school system. The needs are having robust program offerings in schools, low operating costs and keeping schools relatively small.

“When you have elementary schools running at 450 kids and other elementary schools running at 100, there is no way to offer equal programs,” he said. “None. There’s no way to do it unless you spend a lot of money doing it and unequal spending.”

Richter shared a chart showing the racial makeups of Chambers County schools.

“But also important here is kind of the utilization,” he said. “Right now, my elementary school utilization is 51 percent.

That means 50 percent of the space in elementary schools is being used right now. That means half of your school buildings, you could empty.”

He explained that this wasted money, since buildings have to be maintained with heating, cleaning, etc. Richter said CCSD middle schools are at 48 percent utilization while its high schools are at 59 percent utilization.

“When you see this much space in your buildings open, that demands a facilities plan,” he said. “Not because of unitary status. Not because of any other thing. It just demands a plan to realign your students the right way because nobody wants to pay for 50 percent utilized school buildings, and you can’t. You can’t continue to afford that.”

Richter said if it costs $5 per square foot to operate a school, and CCSD has 300,000 square feet of excess space, then about $1.5 million goes toward empty space.

He explained to the audience that they would be going over the pros and cons of draft options for restructuring schools.

One plan, which focused entirely on elementary schools, proposed consolidating Eastside Elementary School and Five Points School into a Pre-K through eighth-grade district-side STEAM academy in the LaFayette High School building. Under this plan, Eastside Elementary School, Five Points School, Bob Harding-Shawmut Elementary School and LaFayette Lanier Elementary would be closed.

“That’s almost $706,000 of operational savings, in just that one option,” he said.

Attendees were allowed to take online surveys to share their thoughts on the options with the school district.

Other elementary school and secondary school consolidation options were also presented.