Chambley breaks down entire CCSD consolidation plan, what’s to come for CCSD

Published 8:30 am Saturday, March 19, 2022

The Chambers County School District announced Thursday night a consolidation plan that will involve merging LaFayette and Valley High — as well as other schools — that it hopes will be accepted by federal courts and allow it to gain unitary status.

The board approved the plan by a 4-2 vote on Wednesday, according to Superintendent Casey Chambley. The plan was created with input from numerous consulting groups, as well as a local task force of community stakeholders that Chambley said was fairly divided among people from the Valley area and LaFayette. He said the task force met for three or four hours on numerous occasions over three or four months in an effort to provide the best plan for the district.

“This decision did not come easy, and it did not come quickly,” Chambley said. “There’s a lot of work that has gone in and a lot of time and energy that has gone into this.”

The restructuring plan will start with LaFayette High students being moved into the campus of Valley High School for the upcoming 2022-2023 school year, which will allow LaFayette High to be renovated to become a new pre-K through eighth grade STEAM Academy.

Chambley said that renovation will take about a year to complete, but he said it would’ve taken at least twice at long and been much more costly if students were allowed to stay on LaFayette High School’s campus while the work was being completed.

Also as part of phase one, Five Points Elementary School and J.P. Powell Middle School students will temporarily go to the Eastside campus, Chambley said. Chambley noted that the Eastside campus will have a middle school principal and elementary school principal while the schools are merged into one building, and elementary and middle school students will be separated.

When the LaFayette STEAM magnet school is completed, everyone that was moved to Eastside will then transfer over to the new STEAM school. Chambley said plans will then be made for the future of the Eastside building.

Phase two of the consolidation is the construction of a new high school. Chambley said as the school system begins construction on the kindergarten through eighth grade magnet school in LaFayette, it will also be working through the planning phases of the new high school, such as selecting a site and going through architectural plans. Chambley said CCSD hopes to break ground during the 2024-2025 school year. The press release from CCSD anticipated that the construction period would take between 24 and 30 months.

Chambley estimated a new high school would cost $60 million, but he said CCSD won’t know the actual cost until it gets further down the road.

“Where you build it is going to determine how much it’s going to cost to build,” Chambley said. “And what you build is going to determine how much it costs to build.”

Once the new high school is built, students from W.F. Burns could move into the current Valley High campus. Also as part of this phase of the project, according to the press release, Shawmut Elementary and Lafayette Lanier will also merge to form Huguley and Fairfax Pre-K through five.

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

Chambley said all of the consolidating is taking place due to three reasons — the desegregation order from the federal government that Chambers County has been working to meet for decades; the fact that only about 55% of their buildings are currently being used due to unlevel enrollment numbers across the district; and the fact that students at Valley High have more course offerings than LaFayette High students due to teacher units granted due to enrollment numbers.

Chambley said the school district isn’t allowed to have racially identifiable schools, and schools must fall within 15% points of the district’s racial breakdown, which he said was 47% White and 50% Black. Chambley said three schools — LaFayette High, Eastside Elementary and JP Powell Middle School — do not meet those guidelines right now.

But that’s only part of the guidelines. He said other factors are student assignment, teacher assignment, staff assignment, transportation, activities and facilities.

“You have to be offering the same thing and be unitary across the board,” Chambley said.

Chambley said the school district had agreed to consolidate high schools in 1993 but a proposed tax failed and there wasn’t enough money to do so.

“What we’re trying to do now is come up with a settlement, and we’ve got to do things in this settlement that’s agreeable to that side. If it’s not agreeable then we’re going to end up going to court and having to litigate it. And that’s more difficult and costs more money to do.”

Chambley said the fact that the school district is also using so little of some of its buildings also played a role in these decisions. He said in elementary schools CCSD had a total enrollment of 1,660 but has the capacity to hold 3,142 students. That means CCSD is only utilizing 52% of its elementary buildings.

In middle school, CCSD has a capacity of 1,488 but only has 728 students. At high school, CCSD has a capacity of 1,466 but only has 869 students enrolled.

“We’re utilizing less than 55% of our buildings,” Chambley said. “To put that in perspective, that would be like my family… living in a 10, 12 15 bedroom home and only utilizing four to five bedrooms. But we heat it, we cool it, we clean it, we furnish it, we roof it, we do maintenance on it, we do all the upkeep, but we’ve got five or six rooms that are not even used.”

He said Five Points Elementary has 93 students enrolled but has an overall capacity of approximately 380. Chambley said it costs $1.4 million to operate Five Points a year, meaning CCSD is spending more than $14,000 per pupil. He said CCSD spends roughly $7,800 per pupil at Huguley Elementary.

“We found a major disparity there,” Chambley said, noting how enrollment determines how much money CCSD receives from the state for teacher units. “It’s really about enrollment…. [The state] funds us by what our enrollment looks like.”

He said the only way to balance that out would be by using local funds, but CCSD doesn’t have the tax dollars to fund all of those units.

He said the third factor was the disparity in opportunities between Valley High and LaFayette High. Valley has 650 students while LaFayette has 220, meaning Valley has more teacher units funded.

“What that means is Valley has a lot more course offering,” Chambley said. “They can offer a more robust program offering than we can at LaFayette High.”

Chambley said his son is a sophomore at Valley High and takes a class for beginning guitar.

He said that same course isn’t offered at LaFayette because they don’t have the staff available to do it. He said right now students would have to transfer or use the Access Virtual Learning platform to take the course remotely.

“It’s just not fair,” Chambley said. “It’s not equitable that we can’t offer the same things to those students. Those students deserve the most robust programs and course offerings that they can get, and we need to try to make sure that we give those things to them.”

He said due to the desegregation order, CCSD has to make sure everything is done on an equitable basis. For instance, when Valley High got a new band room, LaFayette High got a new band room.

“If you do one thing on one side of the county, you have to do the same thing on the other side,” Chambley said. “It comes to a point where you can’t do everything for both, so you end up just not doing anything. All the kids suffer then.”

WHAT HAPPENS NOW

Chambley said CCSD has a court date scheduled for August and is working to try to come up with a settlement.

“The DOJ and the LDF is working with us on this case, and they are being workable and trying to help us with this,” Chambley said. “It is their job to make sure that we do what they think we should do. We agree on some things, and we disagree on some things, but we’ve got to come to common, even ground. We think a lot of the parts of this plan, along with a lot of other stuff that’s going to with it, is going to help us reach a settlement. We hope to reach a settlement with them very soon.”

Since negotiations continue, Chambley said the plan could still be altered, if needed.

TRANSPORTATION

Chambley said right now only about 45% of CCSD’s total student population ride a school bus, which means transportation — while important — isn’t quite as difficult to figure out as some might think.

“Really, the transportation issue is not as big of an issue as everybody thinks because we don’t bus all of those kids,” Chambley said of the school system’s 3,400 students.

He said for the students at the northern part of the county some of the bus routes will actually be shorter. He said the transportation plan is still being created, but he said they will probably run a high school bus route for the northern part of the county.

“They’d go right from that route to where the high school is. What we’ve been doing in the past is our buses pick up all three grade levels, so if you live down a street or in a neighborhood, it picks up elementary, middle school and high school kids. Then it has to go drop off at a hub, elementary school, then a middle school and a high school. All of that takes time.”

Chambley said the furthest northeastern part of the county is 42 minutes from Valley High, and he believes they can run the route in an hour or so.

“We have kids on the bus right now that are on buses longer than an hour, a lot longer than hour,” Chambley said.

He said it’s not unusual for kids in rural areas of the state to be on a bus an hour or an hour and a half.

He also said CCSD has invested in buses after purchasing 16 total in the last year. All of them have air conditioning and will be used for the longest routes.

He said the plan is to transition the entire bus fleet to air conditioning over time, but it costs another $8,000 per bus to do so.

EMPLOYEES

Chambley said current employees will still have a job during this transition. He said state law allows for a reduction in force if you are closing a building, but CCSD is choosing not to use it.

“We have decided not to RIF any employee,” Chambley said. “If their employment deals with the closure of a building, they’re not going to lose their job.”

He said there are going to be people who are non-tenured or people who might not be hired back, but it won’t be related to the move.

He said employees may be given other positions. For instance, a principal from a closed school may be given another administrator role or a principal job of a different school. There may be more lunchroom staff than normal at a school.

“We may just have a lot of help for a while,” Chambley said.

He said in time the number of employees will level out through attrition, retirement, promotions, etc.

“We’ll figure out what we need to replace and what we don’t, and we’ll level those positions out that way,” Chambley said. “… We’re going to find places for people. It may not be at that same school and doing that exact same thing, but everybody who wants a job will have a job that is being retained due to performance.”

NEW HIGH SCHOOL

When all of the LaFayette High students merge into Valley High’s campus this year, that school will have a new name. It will not be called Valley High School.

Chambley said it’ll change immediately.

“There is no way I can ask my kids at LaFayette to move to another building, give up their high school, give up their name, their mascot, their colors and allow Valley to keep theirs. You can’t do it, so if we’re going to merge, everybody has a cost they are going to have to pay in this. Everybody’s going to have something they’re going to have to compromise on.”

Chambley said the new name has not been selected yet.

“We’re going to let a group of folks and parents and some students help us with that — determining what the school name, school colors, and mascot and things will be,” Chambley said.

When it’s built, the new name and mascot will transition to the brand-new high school.