CCSD hearing to approve consolidated high school location underway

Published 7:37 pm Tuesday, January 17, 2023

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On Tuesday, the hearing for the Chambers County Board of Education’s motion to approve the consolidated high school site location in Valley got underway. 

BOE Attorney Bob Meadows presented trial and defendant exhibits and interviewed Superintendent Casey Chambley on the witness stand about data collection on city populations, geography, school district budget and donated property data.

Meadows outlined the school board’s process from the time he was hired in January 2021. In fall of 2022, Chambley confirmed the school board hired HOAR Property Management to gather data such as geodata to develop a plan to consolidate the high schools.

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Chambley said one of the reasons that the additional sites were not considered was because of poor sewage or road accessibility. During cross-examination, US attorneys asked Chambley to confirm that the school board moved forward with the decision for the site selection without official data on the cost and timeframe of installing sewage systems. He said that the architect company Cooper Carry gave the school board estimates but not official information. 

In April, HOAR Property Management held town hall meetings to inform the community and the board about their process and findings. During the summer of 2021, Chambley said CCSD established a community-wide task force with community leaders, parents and others. The group met and discussed desegregation obligations, facility assessments and data from November to February of 2021 and came up with several options for the different school grade levels, elementary, middle and high school. 

On March 22, the BOE took the task force’s proposals into account and made a plan to close several elementary schools in the county and consolidate the high schools. In late May, a consent decree for these decisions was signed; however, the private plaintiffs pulled out of the order. 

During cross-examination, Chambley confirmed that the Desegregation Advisory Committee’s input in the process was limited and requested for a more centralized location. 

Many citizens have argued that the school board rushed through the desegregation process during public hearing meetings. Chambley said that he and the school board have been addressing certain time sensitive issues agreed upon in the consent decree, which is why they requested to close the elementary schools in May and June.

“We moved forward with the things we moved forward with, so that we wouldn’t be behind,” Chambley said.

On Sept. 12, the HOAR Property Management and BOE presented the analysis of the LaFayette and Valley site data at a community Site Comparison meeting in LaFayette. The geodata of the Valley site was given to the BOE from the city based on an analysis that was conducted in 2016. According to an email presented by Meadows on Sept. 13, Tracy Richter of HOAR Property Management requested more data for the LaFayette site from the city attorney Joseph Tucker, Mayor Kenneth Vines and City Clerk Louis Davidson. Tucker responded with the information on Sept. 20.

The school board received an updated report by Richter with notes and comments about the LaFayette site data on Oct. 25, the day before they voted on the two sites. Chambley said the documents were continually updated as new information was given.

Chambley said the LaFayette High students receive fewer opportunities than Valley because the number of students in class determines how much funding the school receives. Chambley said the cost per pupil at Valley High is $8,000 and at LaFayette High is $14,000. Combined, they will have more options for electives and programs like JROTC. 

“It allows more opportunities for students immediately,” Chambley said.

Chambley said the students that will be most impacted by the transportation is about five percent of high school students. Chambley said there is “not a disproportionate burden” on Lafayette students because there are approximately 120 more Black students in the Valley area. 

“There’s not a perfect situation in our county … The transportation issue is one that’s going to be there regardless,” Chambley said.

Superintendent Casey Chambley said that the entire school system will transition to the central time zone. The city of Valley, EAMC hospital and several other industries in the area have committed to move to central time as well, according to information shared at the hearing. 

“All Chambers County schools would run on central time,” Chambley said.

According to a census report for the past 30 years presented by Meadows, in 1990, LaFayette had 3,205 citizens, with 1,991 being Black citizens. In 2020, there were 2,684 citizens in the city and 1,757 Black residents. In 1990, Valley had 8,173 citizens with 6,735 being white. In 2020, there were 10,513 citizens in the city 6,234 being White. 

Though the county as a whole has shrunk in population since the old textile mills closed down, Valley’s population has increased.

Meadows presented population data from the school district as well. In the school year 1990-1991, LaFayette High School had 431 students, 395 being Black students. Valley High School had 805 students and 441 White. As of Dec. 12 of last year, LaFayette High had 207 students enrolled, 173 of which were Black, and Valley High had 625 students with 290 Black and 291 White students. One hundred and seventeen more Black students attend Valley High than LaFayette. 

The hearing will continue Thursday at 8:30 a.m. central time in Montgomery. The hearing is also being livestreamed in the large courtroom of the Chambers County Courthouse.