School district supports consolidation plan

The Lumberton School Board, which is under legislative order to abolish its district by July 2019, will begin considering a proposal today that will keep the current Lumberton schools as they are and place them under the direction of the Lamar County School District.

The Lamar County School Board unanimously endorsed the voluntary consolidation plan during a special meeting last Friday, calling for the changes to occur in the 2018-19 school year.

Under Senate Bill 2500 of the 2016 Legislature, which became law on July 1, 2016, the Lumberton School District would not exist after July 1, 2019, and would be divided between the Lamar County Board of Education and the Poplarville School District according to the county line.

A plan for consolidation must be submitted to the Legislature by Dec. 1, 2017.

Dr. Linda Smith, superintendent of the Lumberton School District, said she would present the proposal to the board for consideration Thursday.

“I have not yet presented it to the (Lumberton School District) Board of Trustees,” she said Monday. “So there’s really not much that I can say until after I present it to the Board because it is written to the board. We’ll present it and talk to them about it at our next meeting Thursday.”

However, Smith said the proposal appears to be in line with what Lumberton officials wanted.

“If you’ve listened to me for the past year or so, my focus has been on taking care of the students, families, community and our staff,” she said. “This proposal seems to meet most of those goals.”

Lamar County Superintendent Tess Smith said she knows that school consolidation can cause a burden on the current Lumberton students.

“Somebody asked me about it at church (Sunday),” she said. “I think about the freshman or sophomore that is sitting down there and they don’t know what’s going to be on their diploma in a few years. Is it going to say that they graduated from Lumberton?

“These kids have gone to school together for years. I know lines have to be drawn somewhere. These kids live across the street from each other now and with the legislation they would not go to school together anymore.”

Tess Smith said she supports the proposal.

“To me, this is the best thing that we can come up with, so I hope it works out,” she said. “If we could bring this school in its entirety into our family, it would be so much better on everybody.”

In addition to keeping the existing Lumberton schools intact, the proposal calls for:

•          The Lamar County Board of Supervisors/Circuit Clerk will determine representation on the Lamar County School Board of Trustees after consolidation.

•          Tax assessment/debt/assets shall be allocated equitably among all property.

•          The Lamar County School District shall have the full ability to structure curriculum and programs to match the existing county structure.

•          The Lamar County School District shall have the full authority to staff the consolidated district according to LCSD existing standards.

•          Certain support departments will be restructured to match the organizational chart currently in use by LCSD, such as transportation, food service and custodial.

•          Existing certified and noncertified staff will not be retained upon consolidation, but will be asked to reapply for positions within the approved organizational chart.

•          The existing LCSD Strategic Plan, Mission Statement and student handbook principles will apply immediately but will have the ability for revision when the new board is seated.

•          Lamar County School District will try to operate a separate attendance zone in Lumberton as long as the Board of Trustees and administration believe that structure can be maintained regarding appropriate enrollment and diversity considerations.

S.B. 2500 also established an 11-member Commission on the Administrative Consolidation of the Lumberton Public School District to oversee the abolition and reorganization of the Lumberton schools. Tess Smith said the proposal is not part of the commission’s work.

“It will affect the commission,” she said. “If Lumberton agrees and we start negotiating, then I would assume the commission would no longer be needed. They still have a deadline for the report by December, so I guess if we couldn’t work something through this by December, (the commission) would be the fallback.”

However, the Lamar County superintendent said the ultimate goal is to keep an actual school in Lumberton.

“The idea is maintaining a school identity in Lumberton,” she said. “We have talked about this multiple times. It’s difficult when you start blending different populations and all. Enrollment is going to be the key because when enrollment drops at a high school, it is going to be much different to maintain. You have to have someone who teaches multiple maths, multiple sciences, all of that. It’s also more expensive to maintain a high school.”

Tess Smith said the idea of saving money by consolidating schools is another question that she cannot answer.

“This consolidation from the beginning has been touted as a cost-saving effort, but I really don’t see that we are going to save a lot of money,” she said. “I truly don’t. I have asked to see the studies from the other consolidation efforts and I have not seen one. I don’t know how much money this is going to save anyhow.”

She said she also realizes that consolidation is scary.

“This is new ground for all of us,” she said. “If the adults are concerned or worried, that’s going to feed down to the student population; they are our priority. That’s why I think this offer is best and if we could start on a positive footing with this and focus on them from this point forward.”

Falling under the legislative order to consolidate the schools has not been something that was sought by local officials, Tess Smith said.

“No one asked for this, but we are having to deal with it,” she said. “We will probably make some missteps; we’re human. We do want to do what is best for Lumberton. That’s what we’re trying to do.”