Consolidation Discombobulation: What's Really Going On?
Today, at 10:00 a.m., the first meeting regarding the consolidation and/or dissolution of the Lumberton School District was held at William Carey University. There were plenty of citizens there from Lumberton. Noticeably absent were the retired/self-employed elected officials of Lumberton. Purvis and Poplarville both had elected officials present and District 2 Supervisor, Warren Byrd, was also in attendance. At the beginning of the meeting, it was stated that the citizens present were not allowed to participate in the conversation. We were told that any concerns we had about the process should be addressed to the Superintendent of our school. Based on Dr. Linda Smith insistence to have Ben Winston appointed as the representative of Lumberton, I don’t think she’s looking out for the best interest of Lumberton. As a matter of fact, I think her main concern is her position and not the people but that’s just my opinion.
The meeting started at a glacial pace because it seemed that everyone was trying to be polite or politically correct but as time progressed, they started to get to the point and the meeting could have actually been concluded today but they want to give each school district an opportunity to meet with their constituents. Prior to the meeting, I was talking with some residents of Lumberton and we thought the best option would involve building a high school between Lumberton and Purvis and allow the elementary schools and middle schools remain in their perspective locations but we also came to the conclusion that their minds were already made up.
If you looked at the live feed, it seemed that there was a lot of double talk as well as avoidance. At first, they were saying that the consolidation was purely administrative but later in the meeting, they were discussing how many students would be sent to Poplarville and Purvis. Which is it? Are they closing down the school or are they just shifting the administrative control elsewhere? It was clear that Poplarville and Purvis (Lamar County) are on the same page. They were concerned about assets, budgets and expenses because they have a viable tax base and this transition involves money. Since Lumberton has the lowest ad valorem tax and the weakest tax base, they’re at the mercy of those that actually have the POWER or in this case, can put their money where their mouth is.
It was rather disheartening to sit there and watch Purvis and Poplarville dissect our school and Lumberton’s representatives didn’t have any viable responses. In the bill that started this process, it was stated that Lumberton must make a good faith effort to make this consolidation work. Well, Poplarville wanted the consolidation process to take place over the course of four years and have everything completed by 2020 because they don’t have the space to accommodate the number of estimated students in grades K-6. Purvis, however, want the process to start in the Fall of 2017 and have it completed by 2018 because they don’t think it necessary to drag this process out for an extended period of time. Now Lumberton’s suggestion is to stretch the consolidation process for another 14 years with a completion estimate in 2030. Keep in mind that the bill was introduced to eliminate the number of school districts. I don’t think drawing the process out over an additional 14 years is a good faith effort. If the committee that was selected don’t resolve the matter, those in Jackson will take over and make a decision.
After more discussion, the delegation representing Lamar County, discovered that Poplarville has the ability to accommodate middle school and high school students but they need additional time to construct a bigger cafeteria and more classrooms for K-6. It was suggested that they transition take place in two phases; 7-12 can be transferred to Poplarville and Purvis beginning in the Fall of 2017 and in the Fall of 2018, K-6 can be transitioned. Again, Lumberton is insisting on extending this consolidation until 2033. I don’t know if that’s Dr. Smith’s proposed retirement date or how they came up with that number but it seems that they are not willing to help in this process and that is probably why Ben Winston was selected as Lumberton’s representative.
Another factor that was brought up by Poplarville and Purvis was the inclusion of students that are in private school and that are home-schooled. The Poplarville and Purvis delegations stated that they have been inundated with calls from parents that wanted to know when the consolidation would be complete because once the consolidation is finished they want to enroll their children in either the Poplarville or Purvis school; not Lumberton. The date of the next meeting will be announced in a few weeks. As I stated earlier, this process involves a lot of money. Where the student goes, the money goes and without students, Lumberton will lose more money. Sadly, poor voting choices have led us to this point. For years, the board refused to raise the millege rate and now the lack of a viable tax base will contribute to the demise of the Lumberton School System. Regardless of what decision they ultimately make, Lumberton School System will soon be non-existent. The Lumberton School District is the biggest depositor at the Lumberton branch of Bancorp South. The administrative control of Lumberton’s school is going to be split between Purvis and Poplarville and the money will follow them. After the school closes, the bank will soon follow.