pages 92 - 99
THE PRESENT SCHOOL SYSTEM, COMMONLY CALLED FREE SCHOOLS.
Various school-laws were passed by the legislature, from time to time; but the first one worthy of note, in this connection, is one passed on the sixteenth of February, 1857, which may be found on page 259 of the statutes of that year, and on page 444 of the collection of Scates et al. This had previously been the law. It was enacted and reenacted from 1841 to 1847. It is a long statute, with many and ample provisions. By section 42, it is provided that the legal voters shall elect "three persons within the district, to be styled school directors", who are to hold office for a year. Section 43 is in these words: " For the purpose of erecting school-houses, or for the purpose of purchasing school-house sites, or for the purpose of repairing and improving the same, for procuring furniture, fuel and district libraries, and for the purpose of paying the balance due teachers, after the state and township funds are exhausted, the board of directors of any district shall be authorized to have levied and collected a tax annually, on all the property in their district."
This law gave them power, without limit, to levy tax to any amount they might please, subject, however, to a vote of the people, which people were the same to whom they owed their election, a large majority of whom paid little or no taxes. Under this law large amounts of money were collected, and several school-houses partly built, and one would have thought that even 'democracy ran mad' would have been satisfied with it; but such was not the fact.
The besetting sin of American society is a mania for office. Men will abandon a business worth two thousand dollars a year for an office worth one thousand, and they are ready to ruin the public interests, for the honor of ruling the public. They array the poor against the rich, and assume the honor of leading the former, because they are most numerous. This class of men are constantly endeavoring to get into some small office, as a stepping stone to a higher one; and they educate those who have nothing to believe that the way to get the property of the rich is to break them down by taxation; and, to get the votes of such, they promise to assess a new tax, or increase the old ones.
This baleful disposition caused a law to be passed, on the 14th of February, 1845, which provided for the election of seven inspectors of schools, to be denominated 'The Board of School Inspectors'. The name of this corporation seems incongruous. School trustees, school directors, school superintendents, or school commissioners, would seem more appropriate; but the fact is, so many laws had been passed on the subject that all appropriate terms had been exhausted, leaving the getters-up of our present school-law no alternative but to call themselves 'inspectors'.
This act gives this board omnipotent power, on the Subject of renting or building school-houses, hiring teachers and determining their salaries, and levying taxes for these purposes, except that the eighth section requires that, after the amount of taxes has been determined by them, the question of levying shall be submitted to the people, at the next election, and if a majority vote for it, it becomes peremptory on the board of aldermen to levy and collect the tax, and hand it over to the treasurer appointed by the board. This clause, however, in practice, has amounted to nothing, for the majority, getting the benefit of the tax without paying any of it, would vote for a million dollars, were that the sum proposed, in stead of and in preference to any smaller sum.
On the 27th of January, 1857, this law was so amended as to require nine in stead of seven inspectors to form the board, and it provided "That the persons so elected, and their successors in office, are hereby constituted a body corporate and politic, by the name and style of the 'Board of School Inspectors of the City of Peoria'; that they shall have perpetual succession, and by said name shall have power to sue and be sued, plead and be impleaded, in all courts and places where judicial proceedings are had."
This law also provided for the issuing of $50,000 of city bonds, to be put into the hands of the school inspectors, to aid in building school-houses.
On the 20th of February, 1869, an act was passed entitled "An act to reduce the Charter of Peoria, and the several acts amendatory thereof, into one act, and revise the same." Said two school-laws, with but little variation, are incorporated into said charter, and, as thus reenacted, are now the law on the subject.
The second section of this law provides that "The said board of school inspectors shall consist of the mayor of the City of Peoria, and two members from each ward (the election districts in the township of Peoria to be deemed, for school purposes, portions of the wards at which the voting for said districts is now or may hereafter be clone), who shall be residents of their respective wards, and who shall hold their offices, respectively, for two years, or until the election and qualification of their successors." From this I understand that, as we have seven wards in our city, and the board of aldermen may make as many as they please, the number of school inspectors is increased to fifteen, and may be much larger, should the number of wards be increased.
The most noticeable point wherein the law, as thus incorporated into the city charter, differs from the law of 1855, is this: By the law of 1855, the board of aldermen were only bound to levy the tax after it had been voted by the people; whereas, by the charter, the board of inspectors is supreme. It is only necessary for them to demand the money, and the board of aldermen (their humble servants) are compellable to levy the tax, collect it, and hand it over.
By this last charter, besides giving all the school-funds to the school inspectors, to the exclusion of all other schools, and an unlimited power of taxing the people in any sum not exceeding six mills in the dollar's worth, which is withheld from all other schools, the city council is authorized to issue and put into their hands any amount of city bonds, not exceeding in the whole 125,000.
Effectually to break down all independent schools, the following section is contained in both of said laws: "No school in said city, or the teacher or pupils thereof, shall receive any part of any school-fund belonging to the state, or any money raised by taxation, that is not a public school, as provided by this act, and established and maintained under the authority and direction of the board of inspectors." But, as above stated, this effect was not entirely produced.
To understand the importance of the above clause, it should be stated that taxation, the greatest source of school-funds now, was not formerly resorted to at all. We then had, and still have, other sources of revenue obtained in this wise: "When it was proposed to give the Illinois Territory the position of a state, the general government required several concessions of the future state, and, as an inducement to those concessions, Congress proposed to concede —
"That five per cent, of the net proceeds of the lands lying within such state, and which should be sold by Congress from and after the first day of January, 1819, after deducting all expenses incident to the same, shall be reserved for the purposes following, viz: two fifths to be disbursed, under the direction of Congress, in making roads leading to the state, the residue to be appropriated, by the legislature of the state, for the encouragement of learning, of which one-sixth part shall be exclusively for a college or university."
"That thirty-six sections, or one entire township, shall be designated by the President of the United States, together with the one heretofore reserved, for the use of a seminary of learning, and vested in the legislature of the said state, to be appropriated solely to the use of such seminary, by the said legislature."
The schedule containing the above propositions was passed in Congress on the 18th day of April, 1818, and accepted by the State of Illinois on the 25th of August, 1818. A large amount of funds went into the state treasury, by virtue of this compact, which were squandered. Afterward, when the national treasury was overflowing, and a reduction of the tariff was opposed to the policy of the majority, the surplus revenue was divided among the several states, and Illinois, after fooling away her part, voted to add it to the school-fund, and pay interest on the whole for the benefit of schools. To all of which should be added the proceeds of the sixteenth section.
On the 16th of February, 1857, the legislature, that had always been too poor or unpatriotic to restore the college and seminary funds, passed a law levying a tax of two mills on all taxable property, for the use of schools.
From these sources of revenue are produced the school-fund, the interest on which is annually divided among the counties, in proportion to the children that might be educated, and then, in the counties, it is divided among all the schools, according to the actual number of scholars sent to school, and the actual time they are kept at it. It was in these funds that said laws prohibited the schools in Peoria from participating, unless they would submit themselves to the said school inspectors.
Under these laws schools have been established in the City of Peoria very extensively. No less than nine school-houses have been built, and all but three of them are very expensive brick buildings. Three of them are wooden buildings, and one of the three is exclusively for colored children. In these the Superintendent computes that he is educating 2,600 pupils. To teach these students, fifty-five tutors are employed—six males and forty-nine females—at salaries, to the males, of $1,200, except the principal, who gets $1,900, and to the females, from $375 to $900.
What effect the Catholic movement, detailed in Chapter XIX, will have on these schools is yet to be proved; the Catholics are so numerous that, should they withdraw all their children, it must thin out the schools considerably.
Appended to these is an institution called the Normal School, which is in its infancy. This school is supported by the County of Peoria and the City of Peoria—the county paying three-fourths of the expenses. There are, as yet, but two teachers—Mr. White, at a salary of $2,500; and Miss Hannay, at a salary of $750—and forty scholars.
These are very showy schools, and many of our citizens are proud of them; but this feeling is far from being universal. A considerable number (although these schools are free to them) prefer to send their children away, to where board and tuition are very costly.
The Board of School Inspectors at present (1870) consists of
William F. Bryan, Esq.,
Chauncey Nye, Esq.,
Charles Feinse, Esq.,
Mr. Alexander G. Tyng,
Mr. Charles Raymond,
Mr. B. L. T. Bourland,
Hon. Gardiner T. Barker,
Mr. A. F. Lincoln,
Mr. Benjamin Foster,
Mr. George H. Mclvaine,
Mr. Eldrick Smith, jr.,
Mr. Eugene B. Pierce,
Mr. John Wichmann,
E. S. Willcox, Esq.,
Mr. K C. Nason,
Mr. J. E. Dow is Superintendent.
Mr. John Hamlin is Treasurer.
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