Consent order signed — CCSD superintendent explains how consolidation plan will affect employees

Published 6:05 pm Thursday, May 19, 2022

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At the Chambers County Board meeting on Wednesday, the school board approved a recommendation for a proposed 2022 consent order to help the Chambers County School District achieve unitary status. 

“We have finally come up with a settlement agreement, and that is the 2022 consent decree, the order that will now go to the judge, and the judge will have the opportunity to sign this consent order and put it into motion for us to move toward the next steps of the things that we have approved at other board meetings — our school closures, school buildings and those type things,” CCSD Superintendent Casey Chambley said.

Law Insider, a resource center that helps lawyers and business owners create contracts, provides a definition for unitary status. Basically, unitary status means a school district has “abandoned the dual status of intentional segregation of students by race and has been brought into compliance with the command of the Equal Protection Clause.”

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Unitary status signifies that a school district “has eliminated the vestiges of prior segregation to the greatest extent practicable with respect to legally imposed segregation, although it does not mean that, as a factual matter, all district schools contain a racially diverse mix of students.”

In other business at the meeting, the board was met with a particularly long list of routine personnel changes to approve. Chambley said it was probably the longest one the board had seen and attributed this to the school system’s consolidation plan, which is designed to help it reach unitary status.

He explained how the Chambers County School District had chosen where to move employees and how it had managed to hang on to employees as enrollment declined over the past few years.

“As many of you know, we are going through a process of merging and closing of certain school buildings as part of our desegregation plan that we have been working toward and working for since 1970,” he said. “We have reached a settlement agreement, and because of that settlement agreement, we are closing several buildings and are going to be able to build several buildings and merge a lot of our resources.”

Chambley said through that process, over approximately the past four weeks, the school board had tried to figure out where employees would fit into the consolidated school system.

He said that the board had previously approved the closure of three schools.

“We know that LaFayette Lanier was a new closure that we did not previously know about until our trip to Washington,” he said. “And then, J. P. Powell and Five Points were the other two. With that being said, we had staff, certified and teacher staff, that needed to be placed in certain places in certain areas around the county.”

Chambley said the school board had the school principals send out emails asking employees where they’d like to go. Employees were allowed to have first choices and second choices.

“So, then we took those and took that information back, and we ordered a big, magnetic whiteboard,” Chambley said. “It’s about four feet long, and we put all the schools across the top. And we’ve got about 400 little magnets, the little two-by-two magnets, and we put every employee’s name on a magnet that’s got a certain color for a certain thing that they do and certifications that they have, and we started placing those under the schools. And we placed everybody on the board where they were.”

Chambley said using the board they moved magnets from schools that were closing to possible new locations. He said retirees and resignations created a lot of openings. The school board read where employees from closing schools wanted to be placed and looked at those schools on the board to see if there were openings.

“And most — I would say 90 percent of our employees got their first choice or their second choice,” Chambley said.

Chambley said moving the magnets around was a complicated process.

“Now, some of them picked a couple, and we moved back and forth because they wanted to do a couple of different things,” he said. “Some wanted to move to be a media specialist or something else, and so we had to start moving.”

Chambley said some magnets were moved 20 or more times.

“It’s almost like a domino effect,” he said. “One move would cause something else to move. So if there was one person that took a position, and they left one school and moved… and we also let other people move and transfer that wanted to move and transfer for other positions, as well.”

Moving one person to a new place would leave an open spot that another person might say they wanted.

“And so, we have been running, all of us, everybody in the office, in every department has been running for the past two weeks talking to people on the phone, having Google meets with the principals, talking to directors… Every morning, everybody gathers around the big whiteboard and starts moving and moving places,” Chambley said.

Chambley said the school board now has a plan for where employees will go. He said the school system is now trying to match personnel up with the school system’s earned units.

“Now, here’s where this is important for us,” he said. “Most people don’t really understand how teacher units are earned through the Foundation Program. We earn our money in Alabama through the education trust fund. And the education trust fund sends money to local systems to fund our teacher units. But they do it through a formula. And that formula is given to you through divisors, and it all depends on what they call your ADM, which is your average daily membership. So basically, the more students you have in your building, the more students you have in your school, the more personnel they give you.”

When a school loses students, it loses funded teacher units, he said. If a school wants to keep those units, it has to find a way to pay for them through local taxes, which comes out of CCSD’s general fund. Doing this is expensive, Chambley said.

Chambley said that 80 percent or more of a typical school system’s budget comes from the education trust fund.

“And it comes from salaries and benefits to their employees,” he said.

Over the last couple of fiscal years, CCSD has had a drop in enrollment.

“For example, fiscal year of 2020, our ADM in Chambers County was 3,422.10 [enrollment] …” Chambley said. “This year, our enrollment was 3,160. Our teacher units in the fiscal year of 2020 that we earned to be paid was 197.51. This year, fiscal year 2023, is 182.46. So over the last three or four years, we have lost over 15 teacher units.”

Chambley said CCSD hasn’t had to get rid of any teachers as a result of this drop.

“…COVID year happened, and everybody went home and lost enrollment, and in the next year, they just funded everybody,” he said. “The next year, they passed what they called the stabilization act where they said, ‘Keep everybody, and we’ll send you money for them, as well.’ This year, they did not stabilize. So, if you lost enrollment, you didn’t get to stabilize. Luckily for us, through these mergers and our retirements and attrition, we were able to pretty much put everybody in place that we needed without having to lay off any of our teachers even though we are and have lost those funding units.”

Chambley said the new employee placements have given CCSD the opportunity to use its buildings more efficiently.

“For example, our Fairfax School is going to now not going to have to share a media specialist, they’re not going to have to share a counselor, they’re going to earn an assistant principal, so those things are going to make that building better and run more efficiently until we can get a new building built for those schools,” he said.

Chambley said 75 to 80 percent of school districts in Alabama have seen decreases in their enrollment since the pandemic.

“If we had had to try to maintain 11 campuses with all of the employees that we had with the losses, we would have had to probably let go [of] about 18 to 20 people,” he said. “And that would not have been good for our communities or our schools or our employees.”