Poplarville schools may not see new students from Lumberton

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Last year, the Mississippi legislature passed SB2500, asking three school districts to establish a path to consolidate the Lumberton School District by 2019.
As a result, the Poplarville, Lumberton and Lamar County school districts sought a joint proposal for consolidation, previous coverage states.
In order to do so, each district appointed members to a joint Commission on the Administrative Consolidation of Lumberton School. Poplarville appointed Board President Tommy Strahan, Superintendent Carl Merritt and Finance Manager Samantha Sandifer, according to previous coverage.
That commission met in June, as scheduled by the Mississippi Department of Education, but has yet to meet again, Merritt said.
However, the Lamar County School Board made a separate proposal this month to absorb the Lumberton school students into its district, Merritt said.
“SB2500 seemed to ask that we seek a solution. Hopefully, this will be an acceptable solution for Lumberton and its students,” Lamar County Superintendent Tess Smith said in an emailed statement.
“There is a state law that permits a school district to do so,” Merritt said, but he added that he has some concerns about whether that proposal will fulfill SB2500.
“I’m not opposed to their proposal, I just don’t know the legalities of not following through with SB2500,” Merritt said.
Open enrollment is one of two options Merritt said he is looking into.
“What they need to look at is the distance these kids could be driving,” he said, a factor Merritt has emphasized since last year.
He told members of the Poplarville School Board on Monday night that he was meeting with representatives in Jackson this week, and, hopefully, Lamar County School Superintendent Tess Smith to discuss the proposal.
“If you take the Poplarville students out of the equation, it will be very difficult to maintain a school in Lumberton. Plus, those students have always attended school together. It seems to truly be the best option,” Smith said in an emailed statement.
“The last thing Poplarville wants to do is make this a political issue between Pearl River County and Lamar County,” Merritt said. “We will honor any law the legislature wants.”
Under the bill, the county line would become the school district line, Merritt said. Students who currently live in Pearl River County but attend Lumberton schools, would be transferred to the Poplarville School District, he said.
Because Poplarville is the receiving district, and directly involved in the consolidation, it cannot counteract the Lamar County proposal, Merritt said.
Theoretically, if Poplarville wanted to bring in the Lumberton schools, including the facilities, the decision would have to come from the Board, Merritt said.
If the district didn’t take in Lumberton’s facilities, that would mean 800 students would join the Poplarville School District, creating the need for major additions, he said.
“I’m just at the very tip of getting the information,” in order to accurately relate it to the Board and county residents, Merritt said.
SB2500 gave the districts until the 2019-2020 school year to make a final proposal, though Merritt said during the June meeting, the commission believed it could be done by 2018.

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About Julia Arenstam

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