Day two of hearings continued with Chambley on the stand

Published 7:03 pm Wednesday, January 18, 2023

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Recap of day one can be found here.

The second day of the hearing for the Chambers County School District in Montgomery began with the continuance of the cross-examination of Superintendent Casey Chambley. 

There were roughly 25 people outside the Montgomery courthouse protesting the selected site. Around eight LaFayette citizens were present in the Chambers County Courthouse on Wednesday, including Council member Tony Thomas and Mayor Kenneth Vines.

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Thomas said that LaFayette’s number one priority is the kids. Many of the plaintiff witnesses agreed that the location of the consolidated school should be centralized.

“LaFayette is the county seat and that’s centralized,” Thomas said. “At the end of the day, it’s what’s best for the students.”

US Attorney Allison Scharfstein and Private plaintiff Attorney Stanley Gray questioned Chambley. 

Gray asked the superintendent whether he had obtained confirmed costs for renovations to the more centralized sites in the county before dismissing them. Chambley said construction company HOAR Property Management provided approximations. 

Educational Facilities Planner Tracy Richter of HOAR Property Management made a site comparison matrix that was presented at a community meeting on Sept. 12. The Valley site portion had information related to geotechnical data, sewage accessibility and an environmental site assessment. 

Gray asked Chambley if he knew that an environmental site assessment report expires after one year. The information for the Valley site was conducted by the city in 2016. The question was objected to and the judge sustained it. 

Chambley also confirmed that he was in conversations with Valley Mayor Leonard Riley about a potential new school in Valley before the land was officially donated in July 2022. 

After Chambley left the stand, the attorneys from the Legal Defense Fund called members of the Desegregation Advisory Committee, Alicia Perez-Purdue and several students to be witnesses. 

During the cross-examination, Perez-Purdue confirmed the DAC requested that the school board place the school in a centralized location and not temporarily bring the Lafayette students to Valley high school. According to her, the committee requested a meeting with the school board but were denied. Chambley said it was because the meeting was an executive session. 

Kayla Ingles, a LaFayette student and member of the DAC, said that there were six students on the meeting, three from each school. No Valley students attended the meetings. 

Another LaFayette DAC student goes to Valley High School during the day for a nursing program. She said she spends approximately two hours in travel time and class time away from LaFayette.

LaFayette High Counselor and member of LaFayette Teachers against Displacement member LaWendy Willis also spoke. She said there has been a visible change in the student and staff body.

“As an educator, I’m in favor of students receiving a nice facility,” Willis said.

However, she said that Valley students will have the “home field advantage” on their turf, whereas LaFayette students will have a transportation burden. 

Chambley said that he made his recommendation for the site location based on the recommendation from Richter. 

Richter also spoke as a witness. He explained that he began the process by researching population and racial and socioeconomic demographics, as well as a community task force to get input and background which was Dec. 2021 to Mar 2022. 

In his research, Richter found that there was an increase in black residents and a decrease in white residents in the Valley area. According to him, only about 59 percent of both schools was being utilized. He said that he tried to find a reasonable utilization rather than wasting space and resources.

“There’s where your costs come into play,” Richter said.

The LaFayette site was added in early June. During July, the sites on Hwy 50 between LaFayette and Lanett were added.

In mid-August, Richter advised narrowing down the site selections. At this time, no extensive analysis was done on the sites off of Hwy 50, besides LaFayette and Valley. The sites off Hwy 50 that were reviewed had to be over 50 acres. During cross-examination, Richter confirmed the cost, availability or transportation details of the Hwy 50, Fredonia and Cusseta sites, except for two. 

The total miles traveled is less to the Valley site than the LaFayette site, according to Richter. However, there are also more students in general in Valley. Richter confirmed that the transportation burden would be larger on minorities in Valley than in LaFayette. 

He said his advice came from the data of student proximity to the site and transportation mileage. 

“I very clearly heard the concerns of LaFayette … Different points become different priorities at different times,” Richter said. 

Richter said it was clearly stated during the Sept. 12 community meeting that all decisions would be subject to the approval of the LDF, the US Department of Justice and the court judge.

In order to replicate the research done for the Valley site, Richter said it would take about three to six months. The cost would be approximately $100,000 to 300,000, according to him. Richter said that the project is about 15 percent complete, but the next few steps will take the longest time.

Chambley said during cross-examination that many of the more centralized site locations didn’t have the amenities that the Lafayette and Valley sites had. He said that in a “perfect world, in a perfect situation,” the school would be in a more centralized location.

The hearing will continue on Thursday in Montgomery and will be broadcast to the Chambers County Courthouse.