Schools In Trouble
Baseball's best philosopher, Yogi Berra, once quipped, "It's deja vu all over again." Well folks, what is happening now in the public school systems of our county and our state has happened before. Eighty years ago, county school board officials across the state were in dire straits. Although the amount of state funding cuts were not as massive, the effects were much more devastating. Imagine if you will, closing schools at the end of January. That's exactly what happened in the dead of winter in 1930. And, the money troubles weren't just confined to larger districts in larger cities, it was right here in the one room school houses, which were scattered throughout each community of Laurens County.
Unlike today when a board of five school board members set policies to be carried about by a single superintendent, each of the small county schools was controlled by a board of trustees under the overall control of a single superintendent and the board.
January 29, 1930 was cold, dreary, dark and wet day. County superintendent T.M. Hicks announced that the end of the school week would be the end of the term for all county schools. The startling announcement came at the end of meeting with all of the trustees of the various schools throughout the county. The meeting, originally slated to be held in the courthouse, was moved to Dublin's city hall.
Many teachers, who boarded in the homes of local residents, packed their belongings and headed home. They had no choice. Their pittance of a salary was scarcely enough to survive on. So, they moved back to the homes of their parents and relatives until the summer was over.
Until that day, the county school board and other boards across the state were allowed to borrow operating money based on future appropriations by the State of Georgia.
When appropriations were cut 25% in 1928 and 30% in 1929, banks across the state and the country became skeptical of the district's ability to repay their loans. After all, banks were in trouble too. Sound familiar? Only three banks were operating in the county at that time. Citizens and Southern Bank had just taken over the failed First National Bank. The Bank of Dudley and Farmers and Merchants Bank were hanging on, but just barely.
The death knell came when Merchant's National Bank of Battle of Battle Creek, Michigan and Citizens and Southern Bank wrote letters to the board refusing to extend credit to the Laurens County School system.
Other systems across the state were facing similar problems. Thousands of schools were closed. Banks just didn't want to lend school districts money when the state was increasingly decreasing funding at the state level and placing the burden on local tax payers, who were officially in the "Great Depression." In point of fact, the citizens of the county had been in a depression for a dozen years after the arrival of the boll weevil, which decimated the cotton crop, the life blood of the county's economy.
All of those who gathered voted to close schools until the end of the spring term. The vote was nearly unanimous. Those who dissented couldn't come to terms with the cataclysm they were facing. Fortunately, there were some schools which remained open. These were schools who were given the authority to tax the residents of their districts.
Members of the school board were confident that they had made the right decision, hoping that a four-month furlough would put the district into a better financial position to start the 1930-31 school year. They also hoped to avoid a similar situation which occurred in the mid-1920s when county checks were considered worth less than the paper they were printed on.
On the last day of school, a check from the Georgia Department of Revenue arrived from Atlanta. The $1,666.66 payment from the equalization fund fell well short of the $16,000.00 a month that county schools needed to keep their doors open.
Professor J.E.Leger and Board Chairman H.C. Burch weren't about to close their school. The mothers of the Cadwell P.T.A. rushed into action. Fund-raising events were planned. Prof. Leger reported, "patrons of the school have generously volunteered to board teachers in their home free of charge and citizens have come forward with donations already and more are expected. The people of our city have shown that they intend to do everything possible to keep their schools open, and I feel sure that they will succeed."
A few days later, Supt. Hicks stated, "When a people go to sleep, chloroformed by less important issues than the welfare of their own offspring, it is not surprising that the offspring suffer."
More than half of the thirty-six Laurens County schools were affected. Mt. Carmel, Cadwell, Pine Forest, Rentz, Bethsaida, Lovett, New Bethel, White Springs, Moore, Poplar Springs, New Evergreeen, Montrose, Cedar Grove, Chapel's Mill, Dudley, Centerville, Baker, New Salem, Pine Grove and Minter, all independently financed schools, remained open. Some Negro schools also announced their intentions to remain open as long as possible.
As one might expect, citizens of the county disagreed over the cause of the financial crisis. G.C. Bidgood criticized the board for going into debt in the past as the reason for the failure of the banks to lend the funds to keep the schools open. J.B. Bedingfield praised the board and turned his wrath to state officials. State Rep. Bedingfield, who was not seeking reelection, blasted Georgia governor L.G. Hardman for his stooping and nagging of his political enemies instead of cooperating with the state's school board. Supt. Hicks cited that it appeared that the governor was more interested in building roads and promoting fishing and hunting than in the children of the state and in particular the five thousand students in Laurens County. Have you heard that lately?
The Laurens County school system, aided by the generous people of the county, survived the financial crisis of 1930. Eventually state funding was restored under succeeding administrations.
The noted French philosopher Alphonse Karr once said, "Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose," or for those who don't speak French, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." I think Alphonse and Yogi were both right.