In 1916, a group of Pelham taxpayers appealed an order by School Superintendent Samuel J. Preston that divided Pelham's school district into two districts, leaving the Village of North Pelham in a school district by itself. The order resulted from a "lack of harmony" between parents of high school students who attended the Siwanoy high school from Pelham Manor and parents of those who attended the high school from North Pelham.
Sectionalism long has been part of the history of the Town of Pelham. This little skirmish in the war between the Village of Pelham Manor and the Village of North Pelham is oddly reminiscent of the 19th century political and tax-based battles between the "fishermen" of City Island in the Town of Pelham and the "mainlanders" of Pelham Manor and Pelhamville. With the annexation of City Island by New York City in the mid-1890s, the "mainlanders" turned upon each other in analogous, sectional skirmishes.
The School Superintendent's order eventually was reversed. Below is a report of the decision reversing that order.
"Education Department . . . . .
In the Matter of the Appeal from an Order Dividing UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1, Town of Pelham, and Forming a New District out of a Part of the Territory Thereof.
Case No. 345
(Decided December 5, 1916)
The interests of the children of the entire district are the State's first concern and on this basis under the facts here shown the appeal herein is sustained.
Union free school district No. 1, town of Pelham, Westchester county, as now constituted, included that town and includes the villages of North Pelham, Pelham and Pelham Manor. Samuel J. Preston, the district superintendent of schools of the first supervisory district of Westchester county, made an order to take effect April 5, 1916, dividing the district so as to leave the village of North Pelham a district by itself. Appellants are residents and tax payers of union free school district No. 1, town of Pelham, and appeal upon the ground that the order is against the educational interests of the old district. There is no proof or suggestion of proof that the children of Pelham and Pelham Manor will receive additional opportunities by the creation of the new district. The change also creates other disadvantages. Appeal sustained.
Harry A. Anderson, attorney for appellants.
Albert R. Palmer, attorney for respondent.
FINLEY, Commissioner.--Union free school district No. 1, town of Pelham, Westchester county, comprises all of such town and embraces within its limits the incorporated villages of North Pelham, Pelham and Pelham Manor. Samuel J. Preston, district superintendent of schools of the first supervisory district of Westchester county, executed an order, dated March 8, 1916, to take effect April 5, 1916, dividing such union free school district and forming out of a portion of the territory thereof a new district to be known as school district No. 2, town of Pelham. Such new district, as so established, was to include substantially all of the territory within the villages of Pelham and Pelham Manor, leaving the village of North Pelham as a district by itself. The order directed that the bonded indebtedness of the district and the value of the school property be apportioned equitably between the two districts.
The appellants are residents and taxpayers of union free school district No. 1, town of Pelham, four of them residing in the village of North Pelham, two in the village of Pelham and one in the village of Pelham Manor. Their appeal is based upon the grounds, among others, that the order is opposed to the educational interests of the district as constituted before such order was executed and that it discriminates against and is unjust to the taxpayers and residents of the village of North Pelham. Many of the residents of the villages of Pelham and Pelham Manor are against the attempted division of the district, it being insisted forcibly upon the argument that if a vote of all the qualified electors of such villages were taken upon the question it would appear that a majority were in favor of retaining the existing district. But notwithstanding the apparent diversity of opinion among the residents of such villages as to the advisability of a division of the district, it is obvious that the real controversy is between the residents of such villages who favor the establishment [Page 617 / Page 618] of a new district and the residents of North Pelham who oppose the change.
A determination of the issues raised on the appeal necessitates a consideration of the local situation. As has already been noted, union free school district No. 1 comprises all the town of Pelham so that for tax and other purposes the town is the school unit. The district lies between the cities of Mount Vernon and New Rochelle, and borders upon the city of New York. It is almost entirely a residential community, the greater portion of the inhabitants having business in the city of New York. The population of the district according to the last State census is 4,470, of which North Pelham has 1,900, Pelham 1,090 and Pelham Manor 1,480. There are two grammar or elementary schools and a high school maintained in the district, viz., the Hutchinson school at North Pelham, and the Siwanoy and high school at Pelham Manor. There were 621 pupils registered in attendance at such schools during the school year ending in June, 1915, of which 311 attended the Hutchinson school, 224 the Siwanoy school and 86 the high school. More than one-half of the pupils in the high school reside in the village of North Pelham, and of the graduates from such school during the past three years a majority were from North Pelham. The assessed valuation of the taxable property in North Pelham is $1,621,423, of that in Pelham, $1,819,180, and of that in Pelham Manor, $3,371,754. By dividing the district as proposed in the order, the North Pelham district would have a valuation of $1,621,423, while that of the new district would have a valuation of $1,621,423, while that of the new district would be $5,190,934.
Ordinarily the presumption would be in favor of the reasonableness and educational propriety of an order of a district superintendent dividing a district and establishing a new district out of the territory thereof. The order appealed from contravenes the established policy of the Department, which has the general support of authorities in school administration and has been sustained by legislative enactment, in respect to the elimination of duplication of school control when feasible, and the concentration of the teaching and supervision forces so that school facilities may be organized more economically and advantageously for the benefit of as many pupils as may avail themselves conveniently of such [Page 618 / Page 619] facilities. In view of the circumstance it must appear that the conditions under which the order was executed are such as to render it impossible to maintain the schools of the district under one management without affecting injuriously the educational welfare and interests of the children of the district.
There is no proof, or suggestion of proof, adduced by those favoring the division that the children of the villages of Pelham and Pelham Manor will receive additional or improved educational opportunities or advantages by the establishment of a new district, or that they will be able to attend school with less difficulty or inconvenience if the change is made. The Siwanoy school and the high school are in the village of Pelham Manor, conveniently accessible to the children in the new district, and the division is not contemplated with a view of changing the location or increasing the facilities of such schools. The only obvious effect of the division will be to deprive the pupils in North Pelham of the privilege of attending the high school in Pelham Manor, which has been erected and maintained by the aid of the taxpayers of North Pelham so that their children may have the advantage of secondary instruction within their own district. The loss thus occasioned may be supplied only by the establishment and maintenance of a high school in connection with the elementary school now maintained in that village. The effect would be to have two small high schools, each with forty or less pupils, in place of the present comparatively strong high school. Such a change would result in a substantial weakening of the local school organization and materially lessen the school advantages of more than a majority of the children of the community. The proposed division of the district will not improve school conditions. The interests of the children of the entire district are the State's first concern, and in this view of the situation it seems clear that the 'educational interests of the community' described in the respondent's order do not require the organization of a new district out of the territory of the present district.
It may not be doubted that the district superintendent acted in good faith and for what seemed to him to be for the benefit of all concerned, in ordering the organization of a new district. [Page 619 / Page 620] There was evident lack of harmony between the patrons of the school residing at Pelham Manor and those at North Pelham. The respondent states in part explanation of his position. 'Sectionalism does exist. It is not a theory, but a condition. It may be regretted, but the fact remains. Independent investigation has established this fact to my entire satisfaction, etc.'
The proof adduced, the arguments and assertions of interested parties, the briefs of attorneys, and communications on file in this Department disclose forcefully enough that there was conflict between the two sections of the district, based presumably on differences of social conditions and environment. It is unnecessary to comment upon this aspect of the case other than to note its influence upon the district superintendent. He conceived it of sufficient importance to justify the summary separation of the contending localities, and his views of the situation are entitled to respectful consideration. I am unable, however, after careful and thoughtful consideration, to come to his conclusion.
Half the children and one-quarter of the taxable property are left by the order in the North Pelham district, while three-quarters of the wealth of the district is chargeable with the education of the remainder of the children of the district. This adjustment imposes an inequitable financial burden upon the portion of the district having smaller resources and greater obligations. The individual wealth of the residents of Pelham and Pelham Manor is far greater than that of the residents of North Pelham. None of the former have been heard to say that they are not willing that the children of their North Pelham neighbors should share equally with their own in the superior school facilities and advantages which their greater wealth will enable them to provide. They could not expect the district superintendent or the Commissioner of Education to sustain a contention that the district should be divided for the reason that they desired to afford their children certain educational advantages or opportunities which were not suitable for other children in the district. Such a contention strikes at the basis of our public school system, which demands that our schools be free, with equal privileges, to all. [Page 620 / Page 621]
The district as it now exists has sufficient financial resources to furnish exceptional school facilities and appropriate instruction, whether vocational or otherwise, to all children in the district, regardless of their environment or their social status. If conflicting notions as to the needs of the children of the district result in sectionalism and dissension, retarding school development and seriously injuring the educational interests of the children of the district, the Department, in the exercise of its supervisory control of the schools of the district, will endeavor by appropriate action to bring about a settlement of the controversies. But lack of harmony or incompatibility between sections of a district ought not to be regarded as a justification for a separation of the contending portions, especially if it appears, as in this case, that a majority of the children of the district may be deprived by the division of substantial educational privileges.
'The appeal is sustained.
It is hereby ordered that the order executed on March 8, 1916, by Samuel J. Preston, district superintendent of schools of the first supervisory district of Westchester county, organizing a new school district to be known as school district No. 2, town of Pelham in such county, out of a portion of the territory of union free school district No. 1 of such town, be and the same hereby is set aside and declared of no effect."
Source: Department Reports of the State of New York Containing the Decisions, Opinions and Rulings of the State Officers, Departments, Boards and Commissions and Messages of the Governor, Vol. 9
, pp. 616-21 (Albany, NY: J.B. Lyon Co. 1916).
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Labels: 1916, Education, Samuel J. Preston, schools, Sectionalism, Siwanoy Elementary School, Siwanoy High School, taxes, Village of North Pelham, Village of Pelham Manor