Landowner, schools at odds over road work

By Ron Maxey/The Commercial Appeal

HERNANDO – Like clockwork, Florence Jermyn plants herself along the roadside at the intersection of Center Hill and DeSoto roads each weekday morning and afternoon.

The timing is no accident; she’s there to make sure she’s seen by cars and buses traveling to and from the Center Hill school campuses before and after school. She wants them to know they’re traveling, she claims, on her property to access the schools.

“I never wanted to bring a lawsuit against my employer,” said Jermyn, who taught at Olive Branch Middle. “When they learn the story,” Jermyn said, “everyone has been very supportive. I’m grateful for their encouragement.”

This is the story of a land dispute that, according to Jermyn, didn’t have to reach this point.

She maintains the DeSoto County school system took a portion of her land without compensation to make improvements when the nearby Center Hill high, middle and elementary campuses were built in eastern DeSoto County, near Olive Branch. And, Jermyn said, she’s made repeated attempts to get the situation resolved.

“I actually went to Hernando and spoke to the school board in person twice last year,” Jermyn said. “They treated me as if I had done something wrong.”

Keith Treadway, the attorney for DeSoto County Schools, tells a slightly different story.

“DeSoto Road is a county road,” said Treadway, who was aware of Jermyn’s roadside protest. “We (the school system) decided to widen it when we built Center Hill. Her survey says we’re over her property line, but we had no intention of going on her property and our survey says we didn’t.”

Jermyn says about 1,200 square feet of asphalt for a turn lane was poured on her property and that 30 trees were destroyed.

Treadway said the school system is involved in discussions with Jermyn through her attorney but in the meantime has begun imminent domain proceedings that will allow the school district to acquire the disputed property for fair market value.

Treadway said he understands Jermyn being upset but that the school system has tried to make a fair offer.

“She wants more than fair market value,” Treadway said, “but we may not be able to pay that.”

Jermyn said as a retired school system employee who taught language arts at Olive Branch Middle School, she never wanted to get into a feud with the school system but feels like the system has been dragging its feet in resolving the 4-1/2 -year-old dispute.

“I never wanted to bring a lawsuit against my employer,” said Jermyn, who said she has spent about $5,000 on legal fees. “I have worked hard to improve education in my hometown. But as teachers tell their students every day — actions speak louder than words.”