Mississippi Supreme Court hears oral arguments on Lumberton School District consolidation
Published 7:00 am Friday, November 15, 2019
The Mississippi Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in a case concerning the consolidation of the Lumberton School District.
The court will issue a decision in the next 90 days on the outcome of the case, said Poplarville School District Superintendent Carl Merritt.
In 2018, Pearl River County Board of Supervisors and the Poplarville School District sued the Mississippi 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 because they disagreed with how the Lumberton School District was consolidated.
In 2016, Senate Bill 2500 required the dissolution of the Lumberton School District. The bill said the Lumberton, Poplarville and Lamar County school districts should reach an agreement about how to dissolve and consolidate the Lumberton School District. It also created a commission to discuss how to manage the consolidation and said all reasonable effort should be made to keep a school in Lumberton.
The Lumberton School District included approximately 600 students, 140 of which resided in Pearl River County, according to previous coverage.
In 2017, the Lumberton and Lamar County School Districts agreed that Lamar County would absorb all of the Lumberton School District. The state commission overseeing the consolidation approved the plan, as did the board of education.
The Pearl River County Board of Supervisors and the Poplarville School District sued with an argument that putting Pearl River County residents into the Lamar County School District violated Senate Bill 2500. The Senate Bill did say students in the school district would be divided along county lines, so Pearl River County residents would attend schools in the Poplarville School District and Lamar County residents would attend schools in Lamar County.
In 2018, a chancery court judge ruled in favor of Lamar County absorbing the entire Lumberton School District.
In front of the Mississippi Supreme Court Wednesday, attorney Andy Taggart argued for the Pearl River County Board of Supervisors and the Poplarville School District that the language of the bill which states, “districts shall come to an agreement,” meant that all three school districts had to come to an agreement about how Lumberton School District would be consolidated.
Lamar County School District Attorney Rick Norton argued that the language of the bill left the matter up to the school districts whether they would voluntarily consolidate, use the state commission to determine how to consolidate or go to the Mississippi Department of Education to determine how to implement consolidation.
The oral arguments also centered on the question of whether the Pearl River County Board of Supervisors and the Poplarville School District are public corporations, and considered people by the law, because the original bill left a ten day window for any person to file a complaint about the consolidation plan. Neither the Board nor the District filed a complaint in the 10 day window.
Merritt said he is pleased the case made it to the Mississippi Supreme Court and the Poplarville School District will abide by whatever decision the court makes.
“These are neighboring school districts,” Merritt said. “We’re all in it together to serve children.”