How the Minimum Foundation Program transformed the state, Part III

The Minimum Foundation Program is here for you.

Now how do you improve your schools?

After the passage of Minimum Foundation in early 1951, many school systems wanted to immediately jump on board and land some of the money that had been talked up for years.

The state of Georgia was not going to stand on a street corner, though, and hand out bags of money to school superintendents. A rigorous process was introduced for systems to first qualify and then actually see the fruits of the labor.

The Minimum Foundation Program was enacted in 1951.

The first school completed under the State School Building Authority was not finished until July 1953. Some systems were still not complete in the first wave of improvements until 1960.

White County was the first system to finish a school and likely the first to complete its projects.

The first building completed was dedicated by Governor Herman Talmadge July 30, 1953. That school was the African-American Oak Springs Elementary, which was built for $47,500. Soon after Oak Springs’ dedication, White Creek Elementary was completed in the county (perhaps appropriately that the first white school finished was White Creek Elementary in White County).

Clinch County was another system that was under construction early. Groundbreaking was held December 31, 1952 for Fargo Elementary (white) and Homerville High and Elementary (black). Clinch was an early setback for the State School Building Authority – as construction at the white Homerville school and a new black school at Fargo were scratched because bids were too high.

Clinch and White were perhaps the first two programs to be finished. The state had not quite gotten its means down to a science, but the state’s end of the process would soon be smooth.

Almost all school systems had their own individual kink for the process of obtaining new schools, but the basic timeline from start-to-finish was:

– A state-approved survey of all schools in the system.

– Purchasing of land for new school sites, if needed. The state must approve the location and acreage.

– Architects’ drawings

– Agreements in place for mergers. If the state recommended a merger of city and county systems, the systems must either combine or work out a merger agreement (suggested at a minimum of 20 years) to educate students jointly.

– Agreements to consolidate. If the state suggested that high schools consolidate, it usually did not back down in its insistence. Systems could get state building funds without consolidating small high schools then, but a handful of counties promised to consolidate within 10 years of being approved. The state rather roughly reminded nine systems of this promise in 1963.

– The sale of bonds by the state.

– Bidding on projects.

– Groundbreaking and the simultaneous building of all projects.

– Installation of equipment.

– A state inspection of the properties, sometimes with a ceremony in which the keys are formally handed over.

Of course, the buildings were not free. They were operated on a lease system.

The True Citizen, legal organ of Burke County, described the process in its March 6, 1952 edition:

“According to Mr. Blount [Henry W. Blount, member of the State Board of Education] , the $38,000 per year, or $200 per teacher, per year, was granted to Burke county when the Minimum Foundation went into effect. That sum will be pledged back to the Building Authority for the construction of the new buildings, and along with the new funds from the State, will total approximately $173,000 per year for 12 years for the equalization process. Mr. Blount also stated that the plan is actually a 20-year plan, but has been set up on a 12-year basis, the additional 8 years being consumed by carrying charges, insurance, interest and other incidentals.”

Though they were leased for that amount of time, not all buildings made it 20 years as schools. J.L. Williams in Commerce opened in 1957 and totally integrated by 1968. Some school systems continue to use their 1950s-built schools, including Treutlen County.

The survey

Many systems held their surveys in 1951 or 1952. Each system would have a number of individuals from outside the county come in, spend a few days visiting each school and examine population and transportation data.

1951-06-28 The Blue Ridge Summit-Post
Criteria of the State Survey Committee in deciding school centers. Printed in the June 28, 1951 Blue Ridge Summit-Post, the criteria list was included in a few other school survey results.

In Paulding County, for example, the State Reviewing Committee consisted of, according to The Dallas New Era: Newton Oakes, Chairman, North Georgia College; Marvin Gaines, Supt. of Schools, Chickamauga; Sarah Jones, State Department of Education, Atlanta; Dr. T.J. Lance, State Department of Education, Calhoun; F.W. Rhodes, Reg. Eng., State Health Dept., Rome; J.W. Shaddix, County School Supt., Douglasville; E.G. Summers, Principal, LaFayette Schools.

On a few occasions, R.L. Cousins, who was the director of black schools in the State Department of Education, was part of a survey committee.

Most of the principals and superintendents involved were from the area, depending on system. They were joined by local citizens who helped host the committees and provided insight on the school situations. Information from black and white citizens was usually solicited.

Survey results were announced to different reactions.

In Candler County in 1951, the survey recommended: “[O]ne permanent high school center, grades 7-12 in Candler County which should be located in Metter. This new building should have approximately 20 classrooms with appropriate facilities and should be so constructed that it could be easily expanded.

“Grades 9-12 from Pulaski should be transported into Metter High School before another school term.”

Pulaski High was indeed consolidated in 1951.

That was not the case in Washington County where results printed in the May 3, 1951, Sandersville Progress recommended:

“A central high school should be established that will serve all the white high school students of Washington County. This school should be housed in the plant now occupied by the Sandersville Elementary and High Schools. This should be organized on a six-year basis including grades seven through twelve and should be administered by a principal who is directly responsible to the Washington County Superintendent and Board of Education. Additional facilities, including expanded lunchroom space, expanded shop areas, and instrumental music room and a health and physical education building should be provided. This school should be renamed the Washington County High School and should be so operated.”

Harrison High soon consolidated. Tennille High, a stone’s throw from Sandersville, protested the recommendation. The suggested Washington County High did not open until 1959.

All kinds of things could come up in a survey.

Warren County’s showed a fading white population:

“The trend in enrollment in the white schools of Warren County has shown an almost steady decline during the past ten years. In 1951-52, the total enrollment was 23.4 per cent less than that of 1942-43, in spite of the fact that one more grade had been added to the school’s program during this period.”

Privies and outdoor pit toilets were still common in the state’s schools, but in Lumpkin County, the restroom facilities were not exactly pristine.

“That at each center all sanitary facilities be made to conform to standards of the State Health Department,” was a recommendation given in The Dahlonega Nugget in survey results from 1952.

Purchase of sites

After completing the survey and accepting the result, was the first visual of a new school – the land where it would sit.

All some systems had to do was purchase an adjoining strip of land.

In Floyd County, all the Board of Education needed to do to enlarge Coosa’s property in 1951 was to buy 10 acres right beside it.

Some needed entirely new sites.

Brantley County purchased 20 acres of land at the city limits on US 301 for a new high school for Nahunta. The price was said to be reasonable, $4,000.

But not all site purchases went smoothly.

Worth County’s building program was delayed because of disagreements on where the new Sylvester black school would be located.

The original site, located on the Moultrie Highway, was found to be poor for building. When the BOE finally decided on a new site months later, a citizens group protested that it was technically located out of town. More sites were inspected and in November 1954, the Worth board found itself in the position of being unable to please anyone, including the state.

If Worth changed its site to what was known as the “Coram site,” it had to get approval from the State Board of Education. The State Board would not meet for at least another month. If it stayed with the “Carter-Odum site,” it faced further petitions from nearby white residents.

(The ultimate protest of a school site was Laurens County’s Brewton School and that story will eventually be given a blog entry.)

Architects’ drawings

1953-09-18 The Herald-Journal
Architects’ rendition of a black elementary school to be built at Union Point in Greene County (Sept. 18, 1953 Herald-Journal). The building was completed in 1956 and named Darden-Thomas that December. An overhead shot shows the final building was considerably scaled down.

Systems had to hire architects to draw out plans for schools. The state had parameters, which meant that almost all finished products had a similar feel: One-story, with outdoor wings.

Merger and consolidation agreements

Like other requirements, some mergers were worked out quickly – Statesboro voted in August 1951 to merge its city system with Bulloch County after it was recommended in the survey. Bulloch’s building program was done for the 1955-56 school year.

On the flip side, it took the second major fire at Elberton High in November 1955 for the Elbert County and Elberton city systems to merge in January 1956. Only then did Georgia agree to start the Elbert building program.

Tennille’s refusal to combine with Sandersville resulted in the Washington County building program not being completed until 1959.

The state’s insistence on a formal contract between Calhoun and Early counties in 1953 regarding the busing of students halted a consolidation ordered by the Calhoun County Board of Education of a single high school at Morgan.

When consolidation was tried again in 1955, Edison and Arlington high schools protested. Morgan High ultimately closed in 1958, its students sent to Edison (and Edison’s middle school to Morgan). Calhoun County did not totally consolidate high schools until 1963.

Appling County was one of  many systems who accepted state funds in exchange for agreeing to consolidate high schools within 10 years.

In 1963, the state came after nine school systems who had not, including Appling, with a vengeance. The State Board of Education threatened to withhold state funds if the order to consolidate Surrency High was not followed.

Dr. Claude Purcell, now State Superintendent of Schools, wrote a letter to Appling Superintendent J.D. Pritchard in June 1963 after months of Appling pleading its case.

In part, Purcell said, “Please keep this office informed as to actions taken by your Board of Education with reference to its commitments under the 1951-52 building program. I am hopeful that it will not be necessary to withhold funds, but I am sure that you will understand that I will have no alternative, under the directive of the State Board, in those situations where commitments under the 1951-52 Building Program are not fulfilled.”

Realizing it was fighting a losing battle, Appling agreed to close Surrency High that summer.

Bond sales

Georgia had to pay for all this school building somehow. The way it did so was the sale of bonds. This was not always immediate.

Tift County faced a long delay in getting its buildings started when a bond sale was delayed from July 1954 to at least September 1954.

That was expected to hold up the opening of the new Tift schools even longer as Superintendent G.O. Bailey had been hopeful to occupy by the start of the 1955-56 school year. Elementary schools had been very overcrowded.

Northside School, the one Bailey was exceptionally eager to open, was still 60 days from completion in December 1956.

Bidding on projects

A system could get lucky, like Berrien County did in 1953, and have the first bids be within the budget assigned by the state (Schoolhouse Story, printed by the State Department of Education in 1955, said the bids were $800 higher than the budget, but Berrien’s Board of Education quickly cut a check to cover the amount).

Berrien, one of the earliest large building projects taken on by the State School Building Authority, had four schools to build – Alapaha Elementary, West Berrien Elementary, Nashville High & Elementary and Berrien High.

The successful bid was $798,000 in June 1953 by Crawford of Columbus. Berrien was able to occupy all buildings in September 1954.

Clinch County ultimately left two schools out its building program – one black at Fargo and one white at Homerville – because bids were too high. The state budgeted $500,000 for four projects. When bids were taken in late 1952, the lowest was $624,000.

Treutlen County had to sit through another round of bids after its two-school project came in too high on the initial try.

It should be noted that none of the State School Building Authority projects included bids for gymnasiums. Systems were prohibited from building those using Minimum Foundation Program funds. If a system wanted to build a gym (or gyms), it could seek a simultaneous bond election within the county.

That is not to say that the Minimum Foundation eschewed extracurricular activities. Brand new schools included “cafetoriums,” cafeterias with a small stage for assemblies.

Groundbreaking and the simultaneous building of all projects

After bids were accepted, groundbreaking had to begin almost immediately. Most contractors had a year to complete projects, barring unavoidable delays because of weather or unavailability to building materials.

There was a steel shortage in 1956, putting Chattooga County’s building program “far behind schedule,” according to The Summerville News. Opening of new school buildings was expected to be delayed at least a year.

Installation of equipment

Central High in Carroll County was not completed in mid-September 1958. With installation of equipment expected to take at least 60 days after its completion, County Superintendent Spencer Teal opted to not attempt to move into the building until the 1959-60 school term.

Black students in Pike County had a longer delay than usual in what was referred to as “cotton picking vacation” by the Pike County Journal.

Not uncommon in some counties, terms were split to accommodate the gathering of crops. School was let out for black students September 6, 1955 and was supposed to be back in session in October, but equipment had not arrived in their two new schools.

School was reopened November 7, but if the equipment was still not in, the students would return to their old schools until they were ready.

A state inspection of the properties, sometimes with a ceremony in which the keys are formally handed over

Cohutta’s in 1954 was fancy.

After state inspectors cleared the building for occupation in January 1954, The Dalton Citizen reported, “the contractor presented the keys to the architects, who in turn gave them to a representative of the school building authority, who presented them to the Supt. of County Schools, Albert Davis. The superintendent gave the keys to Principal W.M. Taylor and keys finally wound up in the hands of the caretaker, Henry Cooper.”

Sources: The Cleveland Courier – June 26, 1953, July 17, 1953; The Clinch County News – Jan. 2, 1953; The Dallas New Era – Aug. 2, 1951; The Blue Ridge Summit-Post – June 28, 1951; The Metter Advertiser – May 3, 1951; The Sandersville Progress – May 3, 1951; The Warrenton Clipper – Oct. 3, 1952; The Dahlonega Nugget – Feb. 29, 1952; Rome News-Tribune – Nov. 14, 1951, Sept. 6, 1955; Brantley Enterprise – Apr. 10, 1952; The Sylvester Local – Feb. 25, 1954; The Daily Tifton Gazette – Nov. 18, 1954, Dec. 6, 1956; The Bulloch Herald – Aug. 21, 1951; The Elberton Star – Jan. 6, 1956; The Calhoun County News – Aug. 21, 1953; The Baxley News-Banner – June 20, 1963; The Albany Herald – Aug. 12, 1954; The Nashville Herald – June 25, 1953; The Soperton News – May 13, 1954; Panama City News (Fla.) – Dec. 5, 1952; The Times-Free Press – Sept. 16, 1958; The Pike County Journal – Oct. 27, 1955; The Dalton Citizen – Jan. 28, 1954; The Herald-Journal – Sept. 18, 1953, Dec. 7, 1956; The Summerville News – Sept. 13, 1956; The True Citizen – March 6, 1952; The Commerce News – July 25, 1957; Georgia Educational Directory – 1968-69; Schoolhouse Story.


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