Lumberton Line Consolidated School District: Is It Worth the Fight?

The other day, I attended the first of many meetings regarding the consolidation of the Lumberton School District. As I sat there, I was not pleased. The room was filled with concerned residents from the City of Lumberton, sans elected officials, and any one of those residents would have been a better choice as a representative for Lumberton than Ben Winston. Let's be clear, he has 5 or 6 school-aged grandchildren, living in the City of Lumberton, but none of them attend school in Lumberton. For some reason, Dr. Linda Smith, thought the pastor that quit his ministry and the mayor that quit his term after two years was the best choice as the representative for Lumberton during this consolidation process. I wanted to get Dr. Smith's input on her choice but none of my calls to her office were returned. The Lumberton School District is in many ways the perfect microcosm for Lumberton. If you still don’t get that, you’ll be in for a rude awakening in the years ahead. A gradual erosion of concerned citizenry, nepotism, the abuse of power by people in authority, perverse financial incompetence that lead will to horrible outcomes, and zero accountability. Lumberton is like a poorly written Tyler Perry show. People keep tuning in, hoping it will get better but nothing ever changes. Despite my efforts to shine the light of accountability, these egregious acts continue to grow day after day. Yet all of these troubling traits have lead to the pending closure and loss of our school system and will foreshadow the future of our city. So, why are we fighting a battle that is already lost?

A society that does not take care of its children is a morally bankrupt society."

If we do not identify a solution that provides stable and efficient schools that all students have access to, we run the risk of failing the most vulnerable members of our society. I, like everyone else, hate the idea of losing our school but why are we fighting the inevitable? One of the first points made, when they actually started talking about the actual transition, Carl Merritt, Superintendent of the Poplarville School District, voiced concerns about transferring students, especially those that will be graduating seniors. He was concerned that a student would be deprived if they were slated to be recognized at Valedictorian at Lumberton but somehow, after the transfer, their grade point average wouldn't allow them the same distinction in Poplarville. When he was saying this, I sort of chuckled because the Lumberton School District already has a problem properly calculating student's grade point averages. I was also thinking to myself that if this was his biggest concern, then we can go ahead a get his show on the road. At least we know that it will be the last time a deserving student will be deprived of an honor they earned. Prior to this meeting, I was contacted by a group that wanted to fight this consolidation but I'm no longer on board. I hate to vilify Dr. Smith because she has made a lot of personal accomplishments. When I was a student at Lumberton High, she was the show choir director and it's amazing that she's gravitated all the way to the helm of the Lumberton School District and is now serving as the school's superintendent. Unfortunately, she's also going to be known as the superintendent that couldn't keep Lumberton's schools open. Again, aside from the people employed by the school district, I don't think the school closure is going to be a bad thing. We're going to lose the biggest depositor in Lumberton and that may force the closure of BancorpSouth but the money will follow the students and it was clear that the students will either go to Poplarville or Purvis once the details are completed. I want to rally behind Dr. Smith but her choice for the representative of Lumberton has, once again, tainted my views of her. I don't like the fact that she don't take chances on local college graduates. When was the last time she allowed the hiring a college student that didn't have teacher certification? Wait, let me rephrase that. When was the last time she hired a college graduate to serve as teacher, allow them to use the year to obtain their teacher's license through the emergency certification process, that wasn't there to coach and didn't have relatives on the Lumberton's School District's payroll? Oh wait, that's another one of those pesky nepotism issues.

Based on the meeting, the Purvis and Poplarville Schools Districts already had a plan in place but Lumberton was still on the back of the bus. There's a lot of double talk but in the end, Lumberton is closing, despite Dr. Linda Smith's futile effort to get them to stretch this process out until 2030. What part of this needs to be completed by 2019 does she not understand? Dr. Tess Smith is trying to give Lumberton some leverage in this matter and she's willing to compromise by allowing grades K-5 remain in Lumberton until 2019; that move will also allow the Poplarville School District time to make the needed accommodations for those grades. Based on the first meeting, this process shouldn't take as long as predicted but the representatives from Lumberton are not looking to compromise and their unwillingness to make a good faith effort to aid in this transistion will probably result in the legislators making the final decision.

When all is said and done, The narrative to close schools is essentially a budget one, which can be extremely powerful; even if the budget savings turn out to be fairly small, or nonexistent. Battles about how best to save and improve public education in Lumberton are sure to intensify in the coming months. No researcher has been able to conclusively say what the optimal policy intervention is for students in terms of boosting academic achievement. And some individuals are certainly more sympathetic to closing schools, particularly if it means their children could attend higher-performing district schools or charters. Even on the question of school governance, researchers have reached no clear consensus on whether state takeovers or local control is better for student outcomes or fiscal management. Nevertheless, there’s consensus that any system which generates uncertainty and distrust is a recipe for disaster. In the end, our ultimate goal should be to build a coalition around this idea that we are the guardians of all children and that, not an attempt to save your job as an administrator, should be the basis of any decisions made.

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