OUR VIEW: School site decision not easy, but the right one

Published 12:25 pm Friday, November 4, 2022

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Sometimes when making a difficult decision, there are two good choices.

And sometimes that can make the decision even more difficult.

From our outside perspective, we believe the Chambers County School Board and Superintendent Casey Chambley agonized over the location of a new consolidated high school. The cities of Valley and LaFayette had both come forward with possible locations, available land and reasoning on why the school should be built there.

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Ultimately, the school board chose the Valley site. 

The reasons cited for the decision include the population of Valley being larger, meaning more CCSD students are much closer to the Valley site. That means there’s less travel involved for most students. Less travel means reduced costs for the district as well. 

The LaFayette site had more land available, but the access to Ram Stadium and the convenience of Valley ended up being important deciding factors.

We know everyone has an opinion about this decision and what it means for each city moving forward. And we know some are understandably upset that the school will be in Valley.  

But we also believe this was the correct decision. 

Anyone from Chambers County could make an argument for either site, but it’s important to take off your Ram-colored or Bulldog-shaded glasses and see the full picture. This isn’t about one student or about history or legacy. It’s about the future. 

The board had to look at the big picture and think about all 3,000 plus students enrolled in CCSD. They had to take every argument, every angle, and all the data and make this extremely difficult decision about the future of the school district.

It’s also important to remember that for 52 years no one had taken this necessary step, one required by a court order. This could not be ignored. There was no option to keep the status quo. Changes had to be made or the situation was possibly going to get much more serious. 

We think it’s fair to say the school system’s feet were to the fire. Anyone arguing that CCSD should leave things as they are now — or rethink consolidation entirely — is misinformed and doesn’t understand what’s happening. 

An order agreed upon in 1993 called for the “construction and operation of a single, consolidated high school in the district.” Yes, for those of you that remember 1993, those were the pre-internet days when Facebook and Google weren’t even a thing yet. 

We read a column somewhere that said the school district should slow down this decision. We laughed. After 29 years since that 1993 order, don’t you think it’s been long enough? What would another year do? How would that solve any of the problems with unitary status that have been around since 1970? 

Instead, CCSD has finally taken a major step that, if approved by a federal judge, will finally allow it to move past the court order that has been over the school system for decades.

And while both sites were worthy of strong consideration, the Valley site won out for a few simple reasons. 

Ultimately, it does not make sense for the school system to pay substantially more to transport students to LaFayette. CCSD said it would’ve cost the district more than $6.4 million to transport students to LaFayette while only $3.9 million to transport students to the Valley site, so a savings of $2.3 million annually. Money ultimately isn’t everything, and it wasn’t the only deciding factor either. 

LaFayette also has a much smaller percentage of the overall CCSD student body. According to CCSD, 33% of students are in the LaFayette zone, while 67% are in the Valley zone. Again, that means putting the high school in Valley displaces fewer students. 

That doesn’t mean we don’t feel for the city of LaFayette. It’s hard to say what losing a high school might mean for the city’s economy overall. Small towns are often centered around their high schools, and LaFayette is certainly no exception.

The new STEAM Academy ensures that LaFayette High will still be used, and there will still be young people in the city, learning and furthering their education. 

At the same time, the loss of Friday night football, weekday basketball and other athletic and academic ventures means fewer people eating out and spending money around town. That’s going to be a lot for LaFayette to overcome. 

But the decision is made now, and it’s time to move forward, assuming a federal judge gives it a stamp of approval. 

We know this was a tough decision, one that had to be made one way or the other. We appreciate Chambley and the board for sorting through all of the data and making the choice they believe will be best for the future of students in Chambers County.