School district consolidation ruling expected by June 1


Chancellor Deborah J. Gambrell has set a deadline for June 1 to decide whether a lawsuit by the Pearl River County Board of Supervisors contesting the consolidation of the Lamar County and Lumberton school districts will go on as scheduled.

Lamar County School Board attorney Rick Norton said motions had been filed by all parties in the legal action, and Gambrell heard initial arguments on those motions last week.

The Pearl River County Board of Supervisors filed the first motion for summary judgment on April 23, followed the next day by the state Department of Education. The Lamar County and Lumberton school board then each filed motions on April 30 calling for summary judgments in the case, joining with the state Department of Education to have the case dismissed.

The Pearl River County Supervisors said through attorneys R. Andrew Taggart Jr. and David G. Porter that “there exists no genuine issues of material fact in this case,” and the plaintiffs “are entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”

The state Department of Education’s response by Assistant Attorney General Harold E. Pizzetta III and Attorney General Jim Hood said summary judgement in favor of the defendants is warranted because “this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction on this untimely appeal filed in the wrong court.” The summary judgment should be in the defendants’ favor because “the plaintiffs’ proposed statutory interpretation is wrong as a matter of law,” the motion stated.

Gambrell scheduled a two-day trial on June 28 in Lamar County to hear the Pearl River Board of Supervisors’ complaint. The consolidation is scheduled to begin July 1, only three days after the scheduled trial begins.

The Pearl River County Board of Supervisors filed a legal complaint Nov. 20, 2017, seeking a temporary restraining order, preliminary and permanent injunction and declaratory judgment to stop the consolidation plan. Gambrell denied the preliminary injunction on Jan. 22 after a hearing Jan. 16 in Columbia. The decision was filed Jan. 30.