Pearl River Supes hope complaint stops consolidation

By BUSTER WOLFE,

Only the 10th Chancery Court’s injunctive powers can correct the one-sided consolidation plan adopted by the Lumberton and Lamar County school districts, according to the legal complaint filed Nov. 20, 2017, by the Pearl River County Board of Supervisors

The supervisors, represented by Jackson attorneys R. Andrew Taggart Jr. and David G. Porter, filed the complaint 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 Pearl River County Board of Supervisors filed the complaint seeking a temporary restraining order, preliminary and permanent injunction and declaratory judgment to stop the consolidation plan. Chancellor Deborah Gambrell, who is hearing the case, denied the preliminary injunction on Jan. 22 after a hearing Jan. 16 in Columbia. The decision was filed Jan. 30.

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.

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

“We had the first hearing,” 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.

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

State Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, 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 lines.

A timeline in the consolidation includes:

•          May 10, 2016 – Gov. Phil Bryant signs Senate Bill 2500, which set the foundation for the committee to determine the parameters to abolish and dissolve the Lumberton Public School District.

•          July 28, 2016 – The Commission on the Administrative Consolidation of the Lumberton Public School District, which was created by Senate Bill 2500, holds its first meeting.

•          Fall 2016 – Commission President Michael D. Kent and Dr. Bill Welch of the state Education Department meet informally with the superintendents of the Lumberton, Lamar County and Poplarville school districts to check the status of consolidation talks.

•          Feb. 17, 2017 – The Lamar County School District proposes voluntary consolidation with the Lumberton Public School District. Poplarville officials complain that they were “blindsided.”

•          March 24, 2017 – The commission meets at William Carey University and Lumberton school officials express their support of the voluntary consolidation. After debate, seven members voted in favor of the proposal and three members abstained.

•          March 27, 2017 – Senate Education Chairman Gray Tollison, who wrote Senate Bill, is among senators who expressed support for the voluntary consolidation.

•          May 22, 2017 – The commission meets for the final time at the Ben Barrett Community Center in Lumberton. A consolidation proposal adopted by the Poplarville Separate School District is voted down 7-2.

•          June 16, 2017 – The State Board of Education ratifies the voluntary consolidation plan with the Lumberton and Lamar County school district.

•          Nov. 20, 2017 – The Pearl River County Board of Supervisors files a legal complaint for injunctive relief and a declaratory judgment against the voluntary consolidation plan.

•          Jan. 16, 2018 – Chancellor Deborah Gambrell denies a preliminary injunction request from the Pearl River County Board of Supervisors. The order is made Jan. 22 and filed Jan. 30.

•          April 30, 2018 – A special election will be held for the District C position on the Lamar County School Board, providing Lumberton representation on the School Board after the district lines were redrawn.