This section is from the "The Subvention In The State Finances Of Pennsylvania" book, by Frederic B. Garver.
A district, in Pennsylvania, usually contained several schoolhouses. It is difficult to understand why the county convention was included in the machinery of the new system. The commissioners, who were elected from the townships to administer the various services of the county, were, it is true, the principal local taxing authority outside of the cities and boroughs, and it might have been on this account that they were included. But the convention without their presence would have been an unnecessary encumbrance, since districts were not bound by its action.
By another clumsy and complex provision of the law of 1834, the local administration of the schools was divided among three bodies. *71 The state administration was closely centralized, on the other hand, in the Secretary of the Commonwealth who was made State Superintendent of Common Schools. The duties of the new office, which were added to those he already carried, consisted chiefly in apportioning the state subvention to the various counties, in receiving reports from the local officers, in preparing a condensed report for the legislature, and in deciding disputes concerning doubtful points in the school law.
He was chiefly a ministerial officer and had no discretionary power with respect either to paying or withholding the subvention or with respect to local administration. He could not coerce or remove a single local officer; nor could he refuse to pay to the localities the subvention, if the minimum tax had been levied and proper reports submitted.
The act of 1834 was passed without much opposition, probably because inadequate means of communication prevented those who were later to become so bitterly opposed to its operation from learning definitely of its provisions in time to bring pressure to bear upon the members of the General Assembly. But in the next session a determined attack was made upon the new system. *72 After the failure of this attempt to repeal the law the legislature turned its attention to perfecting the system.
71 The directors elected by the people were chargeable with locating schools, building schoolhouses, employing teachers, admitting pupils, selecting books and equipment, and with visitation of the schools in their charge. The township supervisor in the townships, and the town councils in the boroughs were alone capable of consenting to the sale or purchase of property used in conducting the schools. The third official group was two inspectors, appointed for each district by the court of quarter sessions, who were required to examine teachers and grant certificates, to visit and inspect the schools, and to report to the state superintendent of common schools concerning the progress of scholars, the number and the qualifications of the teachers employed, the number of scholars taught, the length of the school term, the cost of buildings, the financial receipts from all sources, and the expenditures classified by purpose. It seems to have been supposed that the appointees to this office would be the best educated men in the community, and owing to the source of their appointment, independent of the local prejudices that might be expected to influence the elected directors. Unfortunately the law neglected to provide for payment for the performance of the many duties placed upon the inspectors, and, consequently, the provision concerning them was a dead letter (Wickersham, p. 322). In the act of 1836, they were dropped, their duties being transferred to the directors.
The intervention of the county convention was abolished in 1836, and the districts were given the right to decide directly upon the acceptance of the system and the levy of taxes. *73 The sections of the law that dealt with local taxation were altered in important particulars. Districts (instead of counties) were now required to levy only as great a tax as their share of the state subvention in 1836, *74 and the maximum local levy by the directors was limited to double the share of the district in the state appropriation. *75 The conditions prerequisite for receiving state aid were the same as under the law of 1834, but the failure of many districts to furnish the state superintendent with reports on the conditions obtaining in their schools caused the legislature in 1842 to add that no district should be paid until it had submitted the reports required by law. *76 There was no material change in the powers and duties of the state superintendent, and that officer continued to perform purely ministerial duties.
72 On the fight which was made in that session to repeal the law of 1834 and to destroy the system before it could become firmly rooted, and for an excellent account of the proceedings of the legislature and an explanation of the determined opposition to the system, see Wickersham, ch. xvi.
73 Act 13 June, 1836, P.L. pp. 525 ff.
74 It was afterwards decided by the state superintendent that the wording of the law made the requirement in this respect permanent. No matter how large or how small was the state subvention in subsequent years, the accepting district was obliged to levy a tax equal only to its share of the subvention of 1836. The provision that made this absurd situation possible is Sec. 10, Par. III, P.L. p. 529. See also Superintendent of Common Schools, Report (1844), pp. 12-13.
75 The districts could by a popular vote increase this amount as in 1834.
76 Act 18 March, 1842, P.L. p. 124.