Pearl River County sues to stop Lumberton school consolidation

By BUSTER WOLFE,

The voluntary consolidation of the Lamar County and Lumberton schools has been challenged in 10th District Chancery Court after the Pearl River County Board of Supervisors filed suit last week.

The supervisors, represented by Jackson attorneys R. Andrew Taggart Jr. and David G. Porter, filed suit against the Mississippi State Board of Education, the Lamar County School District, the Lumberton Public School District and the Commission on the Administrative Consolidation of the Lumberton Public School District.

The Lamar County and Lumberton school boards received approval from the state Department of Education to begin the voluntary consolidation, the first one attempted in the state. Lumberton is expected to become a part of the Lamar County School District beginning July 1.

Aidran Lumpkin, Pearl River County Administrator, said the supervisors are involved in the consolidation process.

“They have been involved since Day 1,” he said Wednesday during a telephone interview in Poplarville. “One of the consolidation commission members was appointed by the supervisors.”

Porter, who is representing the Pearl River County supervisors, said the attorneys involved in the case are comparing calendars to see when the case might be heard by 10th District Chancery Judge Deborah Gambrell. Gambrell, who heard the initial case, denied a motion for a preliminary injunction in the case Jan. 16 while hearing Marion County cases in Columbia.

Lamar County School Board Attorney Rick Norton, who attended the hearing Jan. 16, said the next move is up to the Pearl River County Board of Supervisors.

“We had the first hearing this past week,” he said. “They had filed their restraining order and the judge denied it. The next thing is to set a date for a pretrial conference with the attorneys.”

The Lamar County and Lumberton school districts are continuing to proceed with the consolidation, setting a special election April 30 for the District C position on the Lamar County School Board. The Lumberton schools – which are expected to become part of the Lamar County district – then will have representation after the July 1 voluntary consolidation.

The seat is held by Jeremy Chance, who was elected board president at the last meeting on Thursday, Jan. 18. Other board members are secretary Deborah Pierce of District A, vice president Buddy Morris of District E, Carolyn Adams of District B and newly-chosen Tony Ingram of District D.

Superintendent Tess Smith had called a meeting Wednesday morning to vote on the resolution setting the special election. Smith is attending the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents Winter Conference in Jackson this week.

School district lines were redrawn late last year to provide for the Lumberton schools to be included in the Lamar County School District.

The Lumberton and Lamar County school superintendents both received the go-ahead on the state’s first voluntary consolidation plan from state education leaders. Members of the Commission on Administrative Consolidation of Lumberton School District received approval from state Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, after the commission approved a Lamar County proposal to voluntarily consolidate with Lumberton School District.

Tollison wrote Senate Bill 2500 of the 2016 Legislature, which became law on July 1, 2016, eliminating the Lumberton School District not later than July 1, 2019, and dividing the students between the Lamar County Board of Education and the Poplarville School District according to the county line.