CCSD Press Release

Monday, January 23, 2023
To our Chambers County School District Family:
I know this has been a trying and difficult month for all of us in the CCSD. I am honored to serve as the CCSD’s Superintendent and assure you it is an enormous responsibility for which I do not take lightly when it comes to our students and staff. I want to take this moment to share a recap with all of you from the district’s desegregation trial at Montgomery’s Federal Court for the Middle District. Our CCSD Board Members, many of the administrative team from our board office, and I spent four days last week in the Honorable Judge Keith Watkins courtroom taking part in the trial. An issue to be determined is the CCSD’s site selection recommendation for a new consolidated high school. Additionally, being considered is the plan for the temporary consolidation of all the district’s 9th-12th grade students at the former Valley High School campus.
Our board members and our administrative team logged well up to 50-plus hours over our four days in court working towards a resolution to settle this case. The trial began on Tuesday, January 17th with our attorney, Mr. Bob Meadows having filed a motion to be considered by the court for a continuance. The hope was that if a continuance was granted before the trial began, it would allow all parties and their experts to conduct fruitful negotiations to resolve these issues. Mr. Meadows noted that all the parties and their experts would be able to come together to participate in these discussions. Although the Department of Justice had no objection to the motion, the Legal Defense Fund opposed any continuance for further discussion. This resulted in Judge Watkins moving forward with the trial since both plaintiffs did not agree with a continuance.
I want all of you to understand that going to trial is not what I had hoped for to resolve this case for our district. This case has divided our school district for more than 50 years. I have committed my efforts to move us forward to earn the CCSD Unitary Status and to get the system out from Federal oversight having operated with racially identifiable schools.
The trial opened with the board presenting our case. I was called as the first witness to testify on the stand giving ten-plus hours of testimony as well as cross-examinations from both the DOJ and the LDF that would stretch into Wednesday morning. During the testimony, it was noted that the district enrollment has fallen since 1992 when Valley High School had 856 students of which 361 were African American. LaFayette High School had 514 students of which 439 were African American in 1992. Today, VHS currently has 625 students with 289 of those being African American. Likewise, LHS has a population of 207 with 173 of those being African American.
The district hired HPM or Hoar Program Management to aid with our desegregation efforts. Their firm assisted us with hosting multiple community town hall meetings to share progress reports from both the Education Task Force and the district’s work on the site selection process for the new consolidated high school. Additionally, it was noted the efforts the board had made to close Five Points Elementary School, J.P. Powell Middle School, and LaFayette-Lanier Elementary School. These closures would improve our ratios of racially identifiable schools, increase the CCSD’s efficiency with our limited resources, and make better use of our school’s operations with enrollments closer to capacity levels. The board also voted last spring to recommend forming a consolidated high school pending approval of the Federal Judge. A consent decree last spring between the CCSD, the DOJ, and the LDF was reached for a short time prior to the LDF withdrawing from the agreement for the new high school. Currently, the CCSD is allocating approximately $14,000 per pupil each year to fund the education of each student at LHS and just over $8,000 per pupil at VHS.
A parcel search was completed to identify potential sites for the new high school with information from the Chambers County Tax Assessor’s Office. In all, over ten potential sites were identified by the GIS expert who used Google Earth to show both street and overhead views. It was estimated that the costs to complete engineering and geotechnical analysis on each of the sites could be as high as $300,000.00 per site or $3 million if all ten sites were to be evaluated effectively. HPM narrowed the sites to just two with those being donated sites provided by both the cities of LaFayette and Valley. The new high school would require approximately 170 square feet per student. It was highlighted that the CCSD can commit about $5 million annually to debt service for the new school. The estimated cost to build the new high school would be approximately $70 million. The community meetings hosted on September 12th and 13th were held to share and update both communities with the site selection information we had at the time. Additional information was still being collected by the district and HPM.
On October 26, 2022, the CCSD held its monthly board meeting and voted to select the Valley site for the new high school to best resolve the Green Factors facing the district for student and staff assignment. The district listed amenities for both sites; however, concluded that the Valley site would keep construction costs within the district’s budget and allow construction to begin sooner. The CCSD committed to using all six of its new air-conditioned buses for transporting students in the northern portion of the district with the longest bus routes. The CCSD also stated it would provide afterschool activity buses to help transport students from the Valley site to a hub in LaFayette such as the one at Inspire Academy. Currently, the CCSD has hired Cooper- Caray Architectural Firm to survey our stakeholders in the district for naming, branding, and mascot selection for the new high school. The vacated LaFayette High School is to be renovated becoming the new K-8 STEAM Magnet School for the district. The CCSD has already budgeted $1 to $1.5 million to be applied to these renovations from the ESSERS III Budget. However, no architect has been hired yet as the renovations will be pending the approval of the Federal Judge for the STEAM Magnet School to be created on the former LHS campus.
HPM consultant Tracy Richter detailed his experience as an educational facilities planner having worked in 26 different states across the USA. He pointed out that LHS was operating at only 59% of its capacity utilization. He noted that a new high school would require up to 183,000 square feet to accommodate 1,000 students.
Mr. Lee Hwang was the district’s GIS analyst from Ohio, who was hired by HPM. He followed with a report that 72% of the district’s 9-12th grade students reside in the Valley feeder pattern. 49 total students were identified as outliers that reside outside the 5-mile radius of the current LaFayette High campus. Mr. Richter noted that the initial transportation analysis created by HPM was inaccurate and had to be recalculated. The updated transportation analysis was provided in December by HPM.
Mr. Mitchum, the CCSD’s transportation director, followed with a report that CCSD buses travel 3,435 miles daily with 219 average high school riders each day in Valley and 103 average riders daily for LaFayette High School. Mr. Mitchum provided maps of various bus routes in the district and also noted plans to add two
additional bus routes to help streamline the transportation of students from the northwestern side of the district to the temporary consolidated high school. It was also noted that the district currently operates with a 2:1 Chromebook initiative for students to have a device both at school and at home. It was also stated that the transportation burden for minority students in Chambers County would be greater should the school be located at the LaFayette site rather than the Valley site.
Members of the DAC or the Desegregation Advisory Committee testified that they opposed temporary consolidation, but wanted the new school built in a central location. DAC representatives were called to testify with one adult and three students sharing their opinions. The DAC did not want students to merge into a new consolidated high school until the new school is completed. One LHS staff member testified representing LTAD or LaFayette Teachers Against Displacement. This group of teachers feels that the LaFayette High School students are being unfairly displaced.
Mr. Chris Busby with the Chambers County Development Authority shared his research on the proposed ten sites that were identified for the new consolidated high school. Mr. Busby was asked to provide additional information regarding the other sites previously identified. His search was conducted to ensure that no infrastructure information was missing. His completed report was shared with the CCSD in November of 2022 after the board had made its recommendation. It was noted during earlier testimony that several of the sites did not have sewer access or other important infrastructure intact. It was also stated that some sites were privately owned, and the owners did not wish to sell or donate their sites to the district for the purpose of the school.
Mr. Robert Murray with King Consulting from California was called as an expert witness for the LDF on demographics and planning. He believes the transportation cost will be much lower than what was presented by the board. His testimony was contrary to an earlier analysis completed by the CCSD experts.
Mr. Matthew Cropper with Cropper GIS Consulting from Ohio was presented as a demographer and planning expert by the DOJ from Ohio. He had previously recommended merging the two high schools at VHS last March but now issued a report in December of 2022 that called for a centrally located high school to be built. It was noted that Mr. Cropper, Mr. Richter, and Mr. Hwang all formerly worked together at an earlier point in their careers.
Finally, testimony was provided by CCSD Board Members Mr. Jeffery Finch and Mrs. LaShae Herring followed by LaFayette City Clerk Mr. Louis Davidson. Mr. Finch called for people to come together so this case could end as the students in our district deserved better. Mrs. Herring stated that she had voted against the proposed site for consolidation and told the judge when questioned that he quite likely will not be able to make a decision that will satisfy the majority of the people in Chambers County.
Judge Watkins asked all parties to submit the final briefs for closing arguments within the next 60 days. This should allow the judge to issue a ruling after trial briefs are filed. The court dismissed sometime after 6 p.m. CST on Friday, January 20th. It is my hope that after 50-plus years of dispute with this case that the district will come together and move forward to provide a better education for all of our students focusing on the future rather than the past. I would ask all of you to please continue to keep our students, staff, and school district in your prayers.
Kind regards,
Casey Chambley Ed.D. Superintendent
Chambers County School District