HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The Commission on the Administrative Consolidation of the Lumberton Public School District held its first meeting Tuesday to start planning the futures of the Lumberton, Poplarville and Lamar County school districts.
"None of us asked for it," said Mike Kent, who works for the Mississippi Department of Education and will work with the commission during the consolidation process. "None of us are happy about it."
Carl Merritt, superintendent of Poplarville School District, said, "Going into my 39th year of education, this is probably one of the biggest challenges that I and the other superintendents are going to face. Superintendents everyday face issues of various types. The biggest issues we face are those with welfare of our students, and I want to get this right."
On Tuesday, discussion touched on everything from Mississippi Adequate Education Program funding, Lumberton's representation on both the Lamar County and Poplarville school boards and how to handle the additional monetary and spatial needs of increased enrollment.
"We're going to be on the receiving end, and we want kids to be able to come to facilities that are there for them, adequate facilities, materials and resources, teachers, so there's no hardship on the kids that are coming in," Merritt said.
However, the main action item for the day was how and when the districts plan to transfer students.
Merritt said kindergarten through second could probably phase into the Poplarville School District as soon as fall of 2017. Then, grades 3-5 in 2018, grades 6-8 in 2019 and grades 9-12 in 2020.
"Younger kids tend to transition a little easier than the higher grades, and then I think there are so many more issues at the higher grades that we have to resolve," he said.
Kent said the student transfer processes for Poplarville School District could be different from that in the Lamar County School District.
Lamar County Superintendent Tess Smith said her district is more prepared to accept older students first and elementary students later.
Lamar County discussed moving grades 6-12 no later than August of 2019, but keeping kindergarten through fifth grade operating in Lumberton, run by Lamar County School District, by fall 2019.
Lumberton School District Superintendent Linda Smith said ideally, she would like school buildings in Lumberton to be in use through 2030, even if they are being operated by the Lamar County School District.
"The main thing is to try to keep schools in Lumberton in some form or fashion," she said. "I, obviously, would like it to maintain a K-12 environment. I can see it in my mind's eye, but I'm not in a position in terms of governance to make those things happen."
Lamar County Superintendent Tess Smith said, "I support that if there's any way, and so that's why we looked at the K-5 concept: leaving a K-5 school there, transition the other schools on into our Purvis facilities."
If Lamar County School District's plan is accepted, students who live in Pearl River County in kindergarten through fifth grade in fall of 2019 the option to stay in Lumberton School District buildings for agreed upon time.
Smith said 148 students attending the Lumberton School District were listed as living in Pearl River County on the district's December 2015 16th Section land report, and 417 were listed as living in Lamar County.
Kent said Senate Bill 2500 does not address debt, and most consolidation bills do.
He said that is also a topic the consolidation commission should consider and make a decision on before it produces its final plan in place by December 2017.
Kent said the districts must compromise and have a workable plan in place by then to avoid having a committee of lawmakers decide their futures for them.
"If this commission doesn't provide report on this date that is a functional report, then I think the message is you're going to get it handed to you," Kent said.
The Senate Bill that was signed in law requires the districts to consolidate by July 1, 2019.