OUR OPINION: The school site decision is not easy, but the right one
Posted at 12:25 p.m. on Friday, November 4, 2022
SSometimes when you make a tough 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 have been distressed by the location of a new Consolidated High School. Both the towns of Valley and LaFayette had offered possible locations, available land, and reasoning for why the school should be built there.
In the end, the school board chose the valley site.
Reasons given for the decision include Valley’s population being larger, meaning more CCDS students are much closer to the Valley site. This means less travel for most students. Less travel also means reduced costs for the district.
The LaFayette site had more land available, but Ram Stadium access and Valley convenience ended up being big deciding factors.
We know everyone has an opinion on this decision and what it means for each city going forward. And we know some are understandably upset that the school is in Valley.
But we also think it was the right decision.
Anyone in Chambers County could argue for either site, but it’s important to take off your Ram or Bulldog colored glasses and see the full picture. It’s not about a student or a story or a legacy. It’s about the future.
The board had to look at the bigger picture and think about the more than 3,000 students enrolled at CCSD. They had to take every argument, every angle, and every data and make this extremely difficult decision about the future of the school district.
It is also important to remember that for 52 years no one had taken this necessary step, required by a court order. It couldn’t be ignored. There was no option to maintain the status quo. Changes needed to be made or perhaps the situation would get much worse.
We think it’s fair to say that the school system’s feet were on fire. Anyone who argues that the CCSD should leave things as they are now – or rethink consolidation entirely – is misinformed and does not understand what is going on.
An ordinance agreed to in 1993 called for the “construction and operation of a single consolidated high school in the district.” Yes, for those of you who remember 1993, that was the pre-internet days when Facebook and Google didn’t even exist yet.
We read a column somewhere that said the school district should slow down this decision. We laughed. After 29 years since that 1993 commission, don’t you think it’s been long enough? What would another year do? How would this solve the problems of unitary status that have existed since 1970?
Instead, CCSD has finally taken a major step that, if approved by a federal judge, will finally allow it to surpass the court order that has governed the school system for decades.
And while both sites deserved consideration, the valley site won out for a few simple reasons.
Ultimately, it doesn’t make sense for the school system to pay much more to transport students to LaFayette. SDCC said it would have 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, a savings of 2 .3 million per year. Money isn’t everything after all, nor was it the only deciding factor.
LaFayette also has a much lower percentage of overall CCSD students. According to the CCSD, 33% of students are in the LaFayette area, while 67% are in the Valley area. Again, this means putting high school in the valley displaces fewer students.
That doesn’t mean we don’t feel for the city of LaFayette. It’s hard to say what the loss of a high school might mean for the city’s economy as a whole. Small towns are often centered around their high schools, and LaFayette is certainly no exception.
The new STEAM Academy ensures that LaFayette High will always be in use and that there will always 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 sports and academic pursuits means fewer people are eating out and spending money in town. It’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 the thumbs up.
We know it was a tough decision, which had to be made one way or another. We appreciate Chambley and the Board of Trustees for sifting through all the data and making the choice that they believe will be best for the future of students in Chambers County.