LAMAR COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - Lamar County School District leaders said its plan to voluntarily consolidate with the Lumberton School District is the best option to keep schools open in that city.
The Lamar County School Board approved the plan is a response to Senate Bill 2500 being signed into law in summer 2016. The law requires Lumberton School District to consolidate with the Lamar County School District and the Poplarville School District by July 1, 2019.
"If we can consolidate the districts voluntarily, as they are attempting to do, I think that'll set a precedent in Mississippi for that to occur more often," said Sen. John Polk, who represents both Lamar County and Pearl River County. "We (the state legislature) don't want to have to consolidate every school district into, in my mind, about 80 different districts. We'd like to see it done on a local basis, and I think this is a great first step for that."
Polk said the law passed last summer would be need to be repealed if the voluntary agreement is accepted, and he said lawmakers would likely be happy to do that.
"To be able to do it the way that we're doing it, so that Dr. (Linda) Smith and I can sit down and work through it with our boards, that's so much easier than it being a public mess, and it being forced on you," Tess Smith, Lamar County School District Superintendent, said. "At least this way we can come to the table together and work together for what's best for our students."
Smith said she hopes Lumberton accepts the plan because it is the best way to continue classes in Lumberton. While she said her district could integrate new students fairly easily, allowing them to continue classes in their own schools keeps things more stable.
"To bring them in and say, 'Oh by the way, you don't have a school anymore. You're all going to have to come to Purvis or some of you are going to have to go to Baxterville' would have been ultimately decided (by the state), and that's very difficult on all," Smith said.
Students in the Lumberton School District now are from both Lamar and Pearl River counties. Under Lamar County Schools' plan, it would absorb Lumberton's school buildings and keep its district lines the same. So, for example, a student living in Pearl River County could continue to attend Lumberton High School, but would be part of the Lamar County School District.
"This way, at least we have a fighting chance to maintain a school in that town that has such a rich history," Smith said.
Polk said, "I always thought that if we could keep the Lumberton School District whole instead of separating it by county, that we could maybe look at keeping the schools open. We never said close the school. We said consolidate the district."
Smith said so far she has received positive responses about the plan from those in her district and in Lumberton. Leaders from those two districts and the Poplarville School District will meet Friday for their second consolidation commission meeting.