Lumberton consolidation talks still in the works

Lumberton consolidation talks still in the works

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The Commission on the Administrative Consolidation of the Lumberton Public School District met Friday to vote on and discuss a voluntary consolidation plan of the Lamar County and Lumberton School Districts.

The Lumberton School Board voted Thursday to accept Lamar County School District's voluntary consolidation plan, but Poplarville School District is not certain that is legal based on the language of Senate Bill 2500, which is the law ordering Lumberton to consolidate with its neighboring districts.

"There was a proposal that was put on the table that was voted on, and of course, I have some concerns about the legalities of the different proposals, the different laws that we talked about," said Carl Merritt, superintendent of Poplarville School District. "No one really could agree that one was right, one was wrong, so the commission has decided to go meet with the leadership of the legislature next week to make sure that what we're doing is in the realm of legalities and that it is legal."

The commission voted to approve of Lamar County's voluntary plan, with seven members from Lumberton and Lamar County voting in favor and the three representatives from Poplarville abstaining.

"We are in unity in terms of our thoughts and beliefs toward this plan and how it will benefit the students that are currently in Lumberton Public School District, and how they will fit in with the Lamar County School District system, " said Linda Smith, Lumberton School District superintendent. "The proposal that Lamar County has brought forth is one for which we are grateful, and I'm humbled that they would consider doing such a thing for not only our students and families, but for this community. I live there. I've lived there for 33 years. It is my home. I look forward to the possibilities for the future because they will always have my support as they work to educate and prepare children for their future."

Lamar County Superintendent Tess Smith said she felt the two groups had the beginnings of a good plan.

"Now, (Linda Smith) and I have to come to the table and work have to come to the table and work out the details of that plan," Tess Smith said. "I'm just ready to move forward. As (Linda Smith) said during the meeting, she needs some questions answered, and we just need to come to the table and be able to start work."

Poplarville school district leaders said they would have liked to be a part of the creating the voluntary consolidation plan.

"Poplarville School District would maybe like to add some options to that proposal, rather than (accept) it the way it is," said Samantha Sandifer, director of finance for Poplarville. "The first proposal in our interpretation was that it was by county lines, so that is what we have on there. The second part is in consideration of (Lamar County's) proposal, and the students in Pearl River County and Lumberton. One of them would be that the Pearl River County students would be allowed school choice to attend Poplarville School District, and then another one that we put in there is that within years one or two if the K-12 facilities in Lumberton are dismantled, then at that time, those Pear River County students would be transferred to Poplarville, not to the other schools in Lamar County."

Keeping functioning school buildings in Lumberton has been a major push for those from Lumberton all along, and Lamar County's plan keeps current Lumberton district lines the same to "comprise an enrollment that will allow an efficient operation of K-12 grades in the current footprint."

"It would be very difficult to maintain K-12 schools if you remove the students who live in Pearl River County," Linda Smith said. "But I think the larger question is that these are families that we're talking about that literally live across the street from one another, and to separate families in such a way, to me, is just unforgivable."

The Mississippi Department of Education is working to set up a meeting between the commission and Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford and Sate Education Committee chair. Lumberton and Lamar County leaders feel they can start planning based on the current consolidation proposal since it was approved by the commission.

"She and I feel that we can begin moving forward and making plans, but it would be nice to have an additional seal of approval, since the legislature will actually receive this report and sign off on it," Tess Smith said.

Linda Smith said, "We want to make sure that they are in agreement with the action that we've taken to this point, and they've told us individually that they are not opposed to what we are doing. But for us to all meet together collectively and having us all hear one voice simultaneously, I think, will be a powerful thing and a powerful tool to help us be able to move forward."

The voluntary consolidation plan has the Lumberton School District dissolved and combined with the Lamar County School District starting in fall of 2018.