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Source: NMHS Newsletter Aug 1996

School Consolidation

By Glen Beery

First, let's review what school systems were like prior to consolidation in Indiana. Indiana has 92 counties and 1092 townships. Most of the townships had school systems and all had a trustee. In those townships that had schools the trustee ruled the school. He was the school administrator. He ran them. He hired the teachers - and fired them. He hired the janitors and the bus drivers. He bought the supplies. Perhaps Indiana was the only state where they did that.

To show you the power those fellows had you need to talk to some of the legislators at that time. You didn't pass anything in the legislature that had to do with education without it being OK'd by the Trustee Association I had a rude awakening to that fact one time when I was down in Indianapolis for a committee meeting working to try to pass legislation for Christian education. This was the fourth meeting and we had gotten down to about what we wanted for this law. The chairman said we had to decide if this was permissive or mandatory legislation. I knew the trustees and I knew if it were a permissive thing they would just pass it off.

So I said, "As far as I am concerned if you don't make it mandatory I don't want any part of it." The person sitting beside me just slapped his hand on the table and said, "If you make it mandatory I'll see to it that you don't even get a sponsor for the bill and it will never get out of committee." When the chairman called for a recess I asked someone I knew who the person was who had made the statement. Yes, it was the Indiana Trustee Association representative.

The only thing that helped the situation was that we had a county superintendent. The county superintendent was elected but he essentially had no authority. He was a good advisor to some of the trustees when they didn't know what to do. If a teacher resigned a couple of weeks before school started the superintendent could help. By and large we were fortunate, I think, to have a pretty good trustee operating the schools in our area. I did hear of an incoming trustee who discovered the outgoing one had ordered enough toilet paper to last ten years. During the school year of l927 or 28 when I was in high school the trustee fired the principal and everybody. He just hired a whole new staff.

The trustee's job was important for the consolidation thing, too. The town election was in the spring of l954 to take office in 1955. Dee Beery filed for trustee before the primary. Later, Clarence Schilling who was a member of the advisory board for Carl Ulmer, filed. At that time if you won the primary race for trustee you were almost assured of the election since Chester township always voted Republican. Dee lost to Schilling by two votes.

Dee says that there wasn't much talk in the campaign about consolidation. But soon after rumors started going around about consolidation. Wherever two people got together in barber shop or elevator, you could be pretty sure they would talk about school consolidation. Nobody knew exactly how it would be done or what the advantages or disadvantages would be but there was a lot of discussion. Then it was found out the outgoing Chester township trustee already had schematic drawings made of what he was going to add to Chester. The school board at Manchester was concerned about needs or plans for the cafeteria there. I said to myself why let two corporations within a stone's throw of each other get involved in building programs and still not have a new high school either. So that is when I really got interested in this thing. If we had to build one new school we probably wouldn't spend more than the two would spend on their own.

The thing began to heat up. I was at the News Journal office one day and Ron Schmedel was there at the time. He was a quiet, easy going person who never got excited about anything and never raised his voice. He began to search the records and found a 1949 permissive that said if you want to consolidate you may, and if you do, this is the way you do it. He took me over and showed me the law in the law book. This was the only thing we could find to give us guidance.

The school board for Manchester at the time were Boyd Warner, Carl Holl and Red Wing. The law said if you want to consolidate get ten signers on a petition for the school board to consider it and adopt a resolution for consolidation. So that was done and they did adopt it. But when the trustee was petitioned about the resolution of consolidation he said he would not sign it even though the advisory board were all pro school consolidation. They were only advisory, so if he didn't want to sign, they couldn't make him. Clarence Schilling was trustee at the time and he wouldn't sign.

The law said if either of the parties refused to sign then another petition could be filed to that party requesting a referendum. So a petition for a referendum was presented to the trustee and he had no choice but to set a date for an election. That is when the battle lines were drawn. This was an up or down vote - yes or no - are you in favor of consolidation.

The only people allowed to vote were voters outside the corporation of North Manchester. The clerks office in charge of the voting record had to take each precinct and sort out the ones who lived inside the corporation and furnish us with a list of the legal voters in each of the six precincts. I don't know how many days it took to do that, but I know I went to the courthouse to pick up the lists. Then we had to decide how to organize.

A group of ten or twelve people decided we would assign two men to each precinct. These two would be responsible for finding out how that precinct was going to vote. It got so hot there were divisions in families - a man and wife - each one on a side, father and sons. It never got violent but it got pretty close one time. We met every week. One person said, "I don't think I'd better go to the corner of one section. Someone else agreed to go see a certain person there. He went to the door just after dusk and the door opened and there stood this fellow with a double barrelled shotgun on his arm. He said, "I know what you fellows are here for. I'll give you to the count of ten to back out of here and in the car and leave." They immediately backed off and left. Needless to say he was marked down as a "no". We didn't get as far as one school where the night before consolidation took place one group drove their tractors in around the school house and tied them together and wouldn't let the school buses on the road or the teachers or anybody get in or out of school.

As the election came near an announcement came over WOWO that "Citizens for Better Schools" were having a public meeting at Chester School. They didn't say it was just for persons that opposed consolidation so I thought I would slip over and see what was going on. Some of you remember that you went in the north door and could go up to the balcony on the second level. When most were in I slipped up to the balcony. It was not long until someone spotted me. Everyone looked to see who it was. But I stayed to listen. The arguments were that the kids in town would make fun of their kids if they came to town. There were all sorts of stories about what could happen if they consolidated.

They finally got around to the cost. They were going to go bankrupt and lose their farms. Consolidation meant they would build a new school. I'll never forget one old fellow. I'll not tell you his name because some of you would know him. He said, "I'd be agin it if it was free."

The Chester principal at that time was Jason Smith. He sided with the anti- consolidation group. This made it a little rough for my group because he was a respected principal. A lot of patrons didn't like to have their own principal against consolidation. Their own children were in school and they wondered which side they should be on. But he was in an awkward position; his job was at risk.

The whole bunch was in Hoover's basement a few days before the election. Carl (Ulmer?) was pacing the floor with a kind of frown on his face. I said, "Carl, just forget it. We've got this thing won." He said, "I don't think we're going to make it." I said, "I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll put the yes/no votes in each precinct on a sheet of paper in an envelope. After the election we'll see how close we came." When we met after the election we opened the envelope. Two or three precincts we had exactly right. One had two more yeses. One had two more no votes. We were very close.

So the votes were counted and we had won the referendum. This meant we were going to have a consolidated school. The law on consolidation specified how that board was to be chosen. The town of North Manchester would have three members on the board and the township would have three members on the board. The trustee would be a member of the board by virtue of his office so even though Schilling lost the referendum he would come on the board. The three members for the town would be appointed by the town council. They all agreed that the three members on the existing board would be appointed to the new board.

The three members from the township were to be appointed by the township advisory board: Bob Ulrey, Eldon Gable and Joe Watson. But there was general agreement that these three were the ones who ought to serve. But how do you appoint yourself to the school board? So we found a way. We found three men who were willing to be advisory board members after the current three moved to the school board. They were Bob Berry, George Haines and Howard Warren. Then we had an advisory board meeting at which one member of that board resigned. Then one new member was appointed and the resigned member was appointed to the school board. Then another would resign and so we went "ring around the rosy" until the advisory board was the new school board and we had a new trustee's advisory board. It worked; it was all legal - but we got sued for it anyway.

Now we were ready for consolidation. The first day of July this new consolidated school board took charge of our schools. One of the first actions was to announce that the two high schools would not be put together immediately. The Chester building was improved by adding a cafeteria on the southeast corner. A kitchen and a cafeteria were added to the old Central building. Then the plan for building a new school was considered.

The first task was to find a plot where we could build. I don't know how many places were evaluated. It came down to a final two: the plot where the present high school is located and the plot on Route 114 east of town where the Catholic church is now located. About forty acres were available there and all the people who owned land said they would be willing to sell. Since we lived east of town I thought the school should be east of town, of course.

Then came the night that the decision was to be made. I don't know who invited him, but I'll never forget the guy. I don't know what business he had being here for the site decision. He was a representative of the board of health from Columbia City named Ben Turpen. He made a statement before the board of his evaluation of these sites. He recommended the site where the high school is now because the site east of town had a swamp on it. It didn't have. There was one just beyond the property but not on the property. They took the vote and chose the present site.

I was so upset over that. I had been attending all the board meeting ever since consolidation. I stomped out of the room and I guess maybe slammed the door and left. People in the room knew I wasn't happy about the decision. I came home and said to Maurine, "Get the kids up in the morning and let's load up and go to Iowa." I was so upset I broke out in hives. We loaded up and left next morning and never told my brothers or anybody where we were going. People knew I had been with them all the way. They hated to see me get upset. Next morning they were all trying to find out where I had gone. In three or four days we came back home and I settled down and the hives disappeared.

The trustee was now a member of the board but he had no authority. He didn't have a kingdom of his own and he couldn't cause a lot of trouble. I remember him sitting in the meeting for two hours without saying a word. The only word he ever said was "No, no, no." Some said he wasn't smart but he was dumb like a fox. As soon as he left the board meeting he met his buddies and filled them all in on everything that was going on.

From that time until we built the new high school we had ll civil law suits filed against us. The opponents were all fired up. All but one of the suits were dismissed. They never amounted to anything. One suit - I've forgotten what it was about - got through the appellate court and came before the supreme court after I was on the school board. So we went down to appear before the supreme court with the attorney. We were ushered into the chambers and all the justices filed in and took their places on the raised platform. I will never forget the chief justice - I don't know what his name was. He ordered the clerk to read the case that was before them. He had those glasses without any rims on them and he looked to the other side and said,"What in hell are you doing in this court with a case like that? Dismissed!"

As the end of the four years neared it was time for the election of a trustee. It was decided that someone ought to oppose Schilling in the primary in the spring of 1958. It finally ended up that I was chosen to take that on. So I filed for trustee in the spring of 1958 and chose my own advisory board members. Schilling filed with his advisory board. But it occurred to us that if he won we wouldn't have any pro consolidation people. So we contacted some Democrats and had a person consent to run for trustee with his advisory members. Then we got a campaign card made with my picture on one side and the pictures of the Democrats on the other side. The advisory board members I had were Paul Sell, George Walter, Jr. and Slim Warren.

As we came down the line for the primary election the county chairman gave me permission as a candidate to have a poll watcher in every precinct. So I got somebody at every polling place to check off voters. Precinct two where I was voting was in the school at Liberty Mills. My brother, Dee, who lived out there was the poll watcher. Then after we were all set Dee said he thought he ought to take time to go home at noon and gather the eggs. So I said I'd come over about ll:30 and vote and take care of the poll vote while he did his chores. He was gone about an hour. The precinct inspector told me later that about 2 o'clock he got a call from the clerk's office wanting to know if Glen Beery was around the polling place. Joe Watson was the inspector and he went out and looked around. He told the clerk that Beery was here and voted but I don't see him around any more.

The election was over and I came home but before I had finished supper the phone rang. The group had planned to all get together down at Warner Brooder to either celebrate or cry. But this phone call was the prosecuter from Wabash, Herb Benton. He said, "I want you down here in my office within the hour." I said, "Herb, I just can't come tonight." But he insisted. "I want you in my office within the hour. We argued and he finally said, "Well, then you be here tomorrow by 8 o'clock. I said, "OK, I'll be there tomorrow at 8 o'clock."

So I went in to the gathering with the group who had been all the way through this whole thing. Joe Shanahan was the superintendent. By that time we had the results of the election and I had won and the opponents were on the way out. I said, "I have something to tell you guys that you don't know anything about and I don't know what it's about either. Before I left the house I got a call from the prosecutor's office and he wanted me in his office tonight. I finally talked him out of it but I have to go in in the morning."

Joe said. "I know Herb. You pick me up in the morning and I'll go with you to Wabash. I know where he drinks coffee and we will catch him before he goes to his office and have a chat with him." So we got to Rock City cafe, got a cup of coffee and Herb come in. Joe made his presence known and Herb came over and sat in the booth with us to talk a bit. Herb said, "This is no place to discuss this. Let's go over to my office." So we did

Now I didn't tell you one story. The opposition had filled out a card similar to ours and had an ad in the paper. The way they had it printed was a violation of election laws. Schmedel (NEWS JOURNAL) told me afterwards, "I asked them if they wanted it printed just as it is? "Yes, sir, that's the way we want it." So he printed it. He knew it was a violation of election laws so ten days later he called me and told me about it and asked what I wanted to do about it. I was pretty sure we would win the election and I told him we wouldn't do anything about it unless we had to.

After the election I didn't want to do anything about it but when the prosecutor raised questions I copied off the title, chapter, section - everything about the law that applied to the ad they had put in. They had neglected to put in the line at the bottom which said "This ad was paid for by..." This line was required by law when an ad is paid by a person who is not the one running. So I had all this information with me in Wabash.

When we got to the prosecutor's office I asked if I had a right to know who filed charges? He told me, and I said, "That figures. What were the charges?" He said, "Loitering too close to the polls after voting." I said, "Herb, you know that the sheriffs are the ones furtherest away from the voting booth and I would swear I was out beyond the sheriff. If the sheriffs were a legal distance from the polling place I was beyond that. I had a legal right to be there." He said, "That is right."

I said, "What would be the outcome if I pleaded guilty?" He said, "O, maybe a $25 fine and 30 days probation." I said, "You go ahead and file the charge and I'll plead guilty, but here, I want you to file charges against so and so on the basis of . . ." He frowned a bit and I told him about my law information. He went over and took his law book down and started reading and said, "I'll be damned. I've run for election - I don't know how many times and I didn't know that was part of the election code. I don't want to get mixed up in that mess." Then he said, "I'll tell you what I am going to do. I'll write them a letter and tell them I had you in and we talked it over, and I'll advise them we'd better not pursue these charges." I thanked him and left. That was the last I heard about it.