Wednesday, October 26, 2022, was a historic day for the Chambers County School District. The school system hosted its monthly meeting for the Board of Education which concluded with the Board announcing they would build the new high school in Valley.
The background is that the Chambers County School District has operated without unitary status since it was served an order to rectify student assignment in Lee vs Chambers County Board of Education on February 12, 1970. The order cited the district for operating racially identifiable schools with disparities for minority students.
A July 1, 1993, Agreed Order called for the “construction and operation of a single, consolidated high school in the district.” Last night, 29 years after the 1993 Order, the Chambers County Board of Education voted to approve site selection to build a new consolidated high school for the system. This action is subject to the approval the Federal Judge.
The culmination of this board vote was the result of a lengthy process to compile the information and feedback for site selection. The Board and Superintendent, Casey Chambley are charged with balancing the “Green Factors” to attain unitary status to effectively demonstrate that all effects of past segregation to the extent practicable have been eliminated. Once the court declares the district to be unitary, it will no longer be supervised by the courts as part of this desegregation order. The “Green Factors” include student assignment, faculty & staff assignment, transportation, extracurricular activities, physical facilities, and resource allocation.
In November of 2021, Superintendent Casey Chambley and the board members joined their efforts to create a Chambers County Education Task Force to analyze the district’s data. The Task Force examined student assignments, staff assignments, transportation burdens, extracurricular activities, physical facilities, and resource allocation. As a result of this process, multiple options were proposed with three specific ones presented at two community meetings.
The Education Task Force met and discussed these three options with stakeholders at community meetings hosted in both LaFayette and Valley in February of 2022. Stakeholders completed surveys to help gather feedback for informing the board members. Based on this information, the Board and the Superintendent took initial steps towards improving desegregation efforts through student assignment by voting to close and merge some of the system’s schools.
It took a ruling by a Federal Judge on July 5, 2022 to approve the initial steps proposed by the Chambers County Board of Education gaining approval to close two elementary schools and one middle school campus. This approved action saw both Five Points Elementary School merged with Eastside Elementary School in LaFayette and LaFayette-Lanier Elementary School merged with Fairfax Elementary School. It also saw J.P. Powell Middle School campus closed in LaFayette and merged onto the campus at Eastside Elementary to become J.P. Powell Middle School. The action to close and merge schools was carried out to ensure the schools are no longer racially identifiable and ensuring they are all equal.
Wednesday night’s Chambers County Board Meeting which saw the Board approve the site selection for a new consolidated high school for the district was the result of months of analyzing information gathered for the process. The decision although not an easy one, will bring two of the district’s communities together which are LaFayette and Valley. Again, the ultimate goal is to ensure the district’s schools are no longer racially identifiable, but rather all students are ensured equal opportunities.
The board had multiple sites to consider narrowing it down to two options. They examined a site comparison analysis completed by HPM (HOAR Property Management) based on two final options to either build the new consolidated high school at a predetermined site in LaFayette or one in Valley. Both sites included donated land parcels for the purpose of locating the new high school offered by the city governments from each municipality. T
The site comparison analysis included specifications on transportation costs for both sites, available sewage at each site, electrical power access for each site, natural gas service availability for each site, adequate water service for each site, potential costs of developing athletic fields for each site, needed road improvement projections, completed geotechnical reports, environmental site assessments, completed topographical surveys, wetlands reports, property zoning requirements, and easements.
The board also had geo coded reports analyzing student distribution across the district. For example, this report projected the one-way transportation for all 9th-12th grade students in the district to site one in LaFayette would equal 10,880.6 miles. In contrast, the one-way transportation for all 9th-12th grade students in the district to site two in Valley would equal 6,635.7 miles. These projected numbers were also used to calculate transporting one-third of the students on the bus at a cost of $5.00 per mile (for fuel, driver, maintenance, and purchase price of the bus) for 180 days of school one way.
The estimated annual costs for the district to transport to site #1 in LaFayette would be $3,231,538.20 and the comparative costs to transport to site #2 in Valley would be $1,970,802.90 annually. Using this information for round trip analysis for transportation costs to both sites showed the CCSD’s annual cost to transport to site #1 in LaFayette to be $6,463,076.40 and to site #2 in Valley to be $3,941,605.80 annually.
One final analysis for the geo coded reports included mileage burden comparison for minority and majority. The report showed that black students in the district would travel 4,921 miles daily to site #1 in LaFayette and those same students would travel 4,280.9 miles daily to site #2 in Valley. Likewise, white students in the district would travel 5,311.8 miles daily to site #1 in LaFayette and 2,135.1 miles to site #2 in Valley.
Another factor weighed by the board on site selection was enrollment of students by district population. The CCSD has 3,139 enrolled students across Chambers County. The schools in the LaFayette zone included Eastside Elementary with 312, J.P. Powell Middle with 130, and LaFayette H.S. with 209. All three schools combine for 651 students of the district’s 3,139 enrolled students. The LaFayette High School zoned students equal 33% of the overall enrolled students for the new consolidated high school. The remaining students across the district comprise those in the Valley school zone totaling 2,488 students with 631 students at VHS or 67% of the enrolled population for the new consolidated high school.
This was another factor in the transportation analysis as nearly 67% or 2/3’s of the students would have to commute to cite #1 in LaFayette if the new high school was located there.
Superintendent Casey Chambley emphasized how lengthy and difficult this process had been for the board to reach this decision. Chambley highlighted the work of several experts and consultants that had been utilized by the board to study the proposed cites for the new high school. Chambley added that the board weighed the information gathered and voted to approve site #2 in the city of Valley for locating the district’s new proposed consolidated high school.
Chambley noted that the board’s vote was based on the amenities and advantages that site #2 offered that would create the biggest benefit to make a positive impact on the students of Chambers County. Superintendent Chambley added that the board’s vote would be contingent on approval of the Federal Judge overseeing the case as well as involving feedback from representatives from both the Department of Justice and The Legal Defense Fund.
Superintendent Chambley noted how this was such a difficult and emotional decision that was tough on everyone from the students, teachers, staff, board members and community residents. Chambley stated “We had to take emotion out of the process when making this decision. It was imperative that we focus on the long term financial commitment of the district as well as ensuring we are using the tax payers dollars as efficiently as possible.” This step for board approval of a new site is now complete as a required formality to submit to the Federal Judge overseeing this desegregation case for consideration for approval for the district.
Chambley added how the board and the district is now ready to move forward to ensure that equal opportunities will be available for all the students of Chambers County by ensuring that the vestiges of segregation no longer exist. He emphasized that the future will grow brighter for all of the students, staff, and families in Chambers County!