Town of Bethlehem Connecticut

 

 

 

Bethlehem Elementary School

This article is from the Sunday Republican Sunday, June 11, 1922

SCHOOL QUESTION HAS UPSET STAID OLD BETHLEHEM

          Bethlehem is going to centralize its schools.  That was all settled at a recent hot town meeting when the Minor-Daniels faction and the Flynn-Johnson faction waged a word battle in the town hall, not over centralization but over the method by which it is to be brought about.  A new school building is the first thing necessary and the state board of education has made it plain to Bethlehem that it is not only necessary but that it must be.  Therefore, the big question being agitated at the post office and at the general store is whether the town will "go into debt" to build a new building right away or whether it will go at the thing cautiously and make some other building do for a short time.

         Bethlehem got a big surprise when E. W. Ireland, representing the state board of education, made his report on the town's school system after he had investigated the buildings on Oct 12, 1921 and April 7, 1922.  Mr. Ireland said some severe things about the four district schools and then summed up this way:  "It is quite apparent that the school plant in Bethlehem is distinctly unsatisfactory from almost every standpoint.  It cannot much longer be improved under the law.  Anticipating action and disapproval by the state board of education, the town of Bethlehem would do well to consider whether it will continue the policy of maintaining scattered district schools or whether it will endeavor to centralize the schools in one or two buildings.  The need for making this decision is earnest and immediate."  "Anticipating action and disapproval," the townsfolk got busy and voted for centralization.James W. Flynn, Town Clerk, 1920's

         When one gets the statements of the leaders of the two factions, one has the opinion of the general populace and the town officials; and the town officials are the leading citizens and each one has at least two titles.  James W. Flynn, who leads one faction is the town clerk and the chairman of the town school committee while Mrs. Flynn is the postmistress.  Arthur T. Minor, who heads the other faction, is the town treasurer and he owns the general store.  Their  supporters hold equally multitudinous offices.  First Selectman Edgar Daniels is an enthusiastic member of the Minor party while A. D. Johnson, a member of the school committee rallies to the Flynn standard.  Hence, the hyphenated party names.  There is no apparent bitterness among the leaders.  Mr. Flynn talks calmly and easily of the advantage of immediately getting a new building under way.  Mr. Minor laughs long and loudly at the "faction" idea and tells in a big booming voice why the town should not go into debt.  The townsfolk say that by gosh the "things ought to be settled" and they are all for calling another town meeting.  The farmers up around Carmel Hill way, where two of the district schools are situated, didn't like this centralization idea anyway.  It means paying for transporting the children to school and "if the children ain't smart enough to find a way to git to school  after the school is give to 'em, they ain't smart enough to go."  Mr. Flynn has been chairman of the   school committee for 22 years.  He was chairman of the grammar school   committee before the town consolidated and when consolidation came 21 years ago, he continued as chairman of the new body.  He has seen Bethlehem's school system grow from the one-roomed school to its present equipment which consists of four buildings, three of which have been declared "distinctly unsatisfactory" by the state board of education.  If the schools are to be centralized with the town's present equipment, they would all be brought together in the Center grammar school which consists of two classrooms.  The overflow would be accommodated  in the tiny library which was formerly  a district school building and is hardly bigger that a child's' playhouse.  At least that's what Mr. Minor's faction thinks could be done.  But Mr. Flynn asks what are they going to do with the library?  The basement of the town hall is too damp and the basement of the Methodist church is too damp and there's no other unoccupied space in the town.  It would seem too bad, Mr. Flynn averse to cart the books hither and yon and generally unsettle them when they are in such constant use by the school children and townsfolk.

         Mr. Flynn points out too that Bethlehem's tax rate is only 12 mills, the lowest of any town in the state.  The town debt, which the farmers are wary of increasing is only $11,000  a mere bagatelle compared to that of almost any other place of its size.  Also, according to the report of the state board of education, the town tax for schools is very low indeed  Mr. Ireland says in his report concerning Bethlehem's school situation, "The town is under no burden as far as school expenditures are concerned and it is well able to provide much better school facilities."

         The state board of education has submitted to Bethlehem a suggestive plan for a new four room school building which would cost in the neighborhood of $17,000.  Mr. Flynn figures that by laying an additional tax of three mills the expenses of such a school could be met.  There are others who favor bonding the town, arguing that the present debt of $11,000 is not so large that the town cannot stand it a little larger.  Also, the town will save money on centralization as it can afford to go in to the school problem a little deeper.  It is now paying the salaries of five teachers.  With the schools centralized the state board had decided that only three teachers will be necessary.  Bethlehem's grand list is so small that the state now pays 40% per cent of the teachers salaries.  For every $100 the town pays the teachers, it gets $40 from the state.  Saving on salaries would more then pay for the extra transportation  expenses and there would still be some left over.

         "It seems to me that if we are going to have a new building we should have it now and not in three or four years," said Mr. Flynn.   "The children of the present taxpayers should have an opportunity to share in the benefits of the new system.  I say  have a new building ready by a year from September."  Mr. Minor the town treasurer, who disapproves of a new building at this time told why as he sold gas to passing motorists and gave advice about rheumatism lineament.  Minor's General Store circa 1920"Well now, I am not in favor of bonding the town."  he said. "What's the use of going further into debt?  I realize that $11,000 seems a small debt to carry but do you realize that we have already paid $7,000 in interest on that debt?.  Several times I have urged the town to lay a special one mill tax as a more effective means of paying off the debt but they voted me down every time.  As a result they have already paid in interest more than half the amount they owe.  If the town is bonded for a new schoolhouse, the same thing will occur.

         "I am in favor of paying a special three mill tax the proceeds of which will be used for a school fund," said Mr. Minor, that could be allowed to accumulate for three or four years and at the end of that time we would have enough money on hand to justify our going to the expense of building a new school.  I can't see why the Center grammar school and the library cannot be used temporarily.   I think that if we showed the state board of education that we meant business in the way of a new building, they would perhaps allow us a little time.  So that's the situation and the farmers are all hot up over it just as they got used to the idea of centralization.  For at first there was much objection to bringing all the children together in one school especially from those who live in the outlying districts.  The last census figures showed Bethlehem's population to consist of 537 persons.   These are scattered far and wide and include a number of foreigners who have been attracted to the outlying farms by the town's low tax rate.  There are  in the town 189 children between the ages of 4 and 16 years and the average attendance at the four schools during the past year was 89.  These 89 youngsters come from far and wide and must be transported by bus in summer and by sleigh in winter.

         The farmers who felt that removing the schools from their district would decrease the value of their property, were in no mood for shouldering the extra expenses involved in transporting children, so they kicked about that.  As a matter of fact, two transportation routes are now in use for the children who attend the Center grammar school so the additional expense would be slight.  Generally speaking however, the farmers are beginning to consider centralization more favorably, especially those in the Hayes school district.  These people petitioned vigorously for a school when the town committee felt that it would be better to bring their children into the town.  They finally got what they desired but the inadequacy of the Hayes District school has opened their eyes to the benefits of centralization.  Bethlehem's schools at the present time consist of the Center grammar school in the center of the town, with a registration of about 45 pupils; two in the western section, the South Carmel Hill school with about seven pupils and the North Carmel Hill school with about 10 pupils and the Hayes school  on the south side of the town with a registration of about 15.   The  three outside schools are from three to five miles from the center and the two on Carmel Hill are approached by bad roads which must require especially heroic effort in the winter time.  The South Carmel school is considered the best of the three.  This contains one room about the size of an apartment house living room.   In common with the other three schools it has double desks which are very old fashioned and uncomfortable from many points of view.  When Mr. Ireland made the report he spoke of the bad condition of the maps in this school.  A facetious reporter who arrived the other day in time for the geography lesson noticed that the map had almost lost Cuba.  He remarked that Cuba is the last country in the world that should be mislaid at this dry time, but the teacher didn't see the joke.  Mr. Ireland characterized this school generally as "unsatisfactory with reference to lighting, seating, and toilet facilities."  The Hayes school and the North Carmel Hill schools came in for sharp criticism from the point of view of ventilation and seating.   The Center school which was formerly the town hall, and is being advocated for use under the   plan, while better than the others did not make Mr. Ireland enthusiastic.  He said of it, "in many respects this building is not convenient nor satisfactory for school purposes.  Mr. Ireland made some interesting  financial investigations which showed that because of the smallness of its grand list, the town of Bethlehem spends very little on its schools.  "Of the 169 towns in the state only 16 make a smaller local sacrifice," says the report.  It also points out that in regard to schools the state is expending about $1 for every $1 derived from local taxes.

         In view therefore of the facts that the state is providing almost one-half of the total cost and that the local tax rate for schools is very low, much below the average, the demand that the present unsatisfactory housing conditions be immediately and greatly improved seems both reasonable and fair," Mr. Ireland concludes.

         The people of Bethlehem have their own ideas about how reasonable and fair the state's demand is and they're going to call another town meeting.   Yes sir!.

The following is from the files of theTown Clerk's Office

School Board Minutes from the meeting of February 3, 1925 showing the intent to build a new four-room school to consolidate the district schools thus ending the era of the one-room district schools in Bethlehem.

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