In part two of a series on the Pennridge School District’s early history, the period between 1954 and 1967 saw rapid enrollment growth, disputes among board members, and a taxpayer protest as the state forced a complete merger of the Deep Run Valley and Pennridge school boards.
Click here to read Part 1: https://preservingperkasie.com/2021/08/16/creating-the-pennridge-school-district/
While the annual Thanksgiving football game and new high school united the Pennridge community in 1954, it would take another decade for the school district to unify as one entity. Divisions within the Pennridge District Joint Board continued into the 1960s. The Pennridge Joint Board has 40 members (five representatives from each municipality) and some member municipalities had questions about expanding to a unified school board that controlled all levels of public education and taxation.
The Pennridge Joint Board agreement gave any of the eight municipalities a veto on major financial projects related to secondary schools. The first veto came in May 1955, when Bedminster’s school board opposed a major addition to Pennridge Junior High School (the old Sell-Perk High School) to address overcrowded conditions.[i] Bedminster relented when the Joint Board reported that at least 250 new homes had been built in the district in 1955, and emergency expansions were needed for the junior and senior high schools.[ii] The Board authorized the project without state financial support and hired architects Micklewright and Mountford again. The move resulted in tax increases across the entire Pennridge district.
Another board dispute came in 1958, when West Rockhill opposed a major teacher salary increase. Since 1953, Pennridge faced staffing problems and annual teacher shortages because its teacher wages were lower than those offered in central and lower Bucks County. The wage-hike passed since West Rockhill couldn’t veto the agreement.[iii] That June, founding supervising principal Lewis Snyder retired and went to work for Quakertown Community’s fledgling joint school district. Snyder recommended that Quakertown Community combine all of its primary and secondary school systems into a unified district.
In September 1958, the new school year began with a record 4,325 students in the Pennridge area, including 1,150 high school students.[iv] Robert Rosenkrance replaced Snyder as the new Pennridge Joint District supervising principal and by 1959, the Pennridge District Joint Board asked for a report on combining all member schools. Deep Run Valley and West Rockhill still maintained their own elementary schools. However, the report concluded a new unified district would increase the Pennridge population beyond 30,000 residents, and the district would lose its state subsidy for student transportation. The plan was tabled.
Hilltown Township, in particular, faced several major problems from the Baby Boom that affected taxpayers and their desire to keep the Deep Run Valley district in place for elementary education. After 1954, Hilltown became the fastest-growing area in Upper Bucks County, adding 418 homes and 2,000 new residents by 1959. However, Hilltown did not add industries or businesses to bring in additional tax revenue to help pay for new schools and students.[v] And as the largest partner in the Pennridge Joint District, Hilltown had to pay the largest share of expenses for the secondary school system. In January 1960, the newly elected Hilltown School Board unanimously rejected the idea of a full merger and union with the Pennridge district.[vi]
In 1960, the Pennridge District Joint Board faced more financial decisions. Because of the Baby Boom, the new Pennridge freshman class had 375 students, compared with 250 seniors. The board concluded that a second junior high school was needed based on population trends.[vii] The district planned to move ninth graders from the current high school to the junior high school system. However, Hilltown voted against the architect selected for the new high school and threatened to withdraw its support for the new junior high school in February 1961.[viii]
In Perkasie, another crisis unfolded when the borough’s oldest-active schools on Arch Street and Third Street failed state safety inspections. In August 1960, the board approved plans to build new two new elementary schools and close the Arch Street school in Perkasie and Sellersville’s elementary school. The Third Street School would be modernized.
Perkasie’s Dr. Charles Apple was elected as the District Joint Board’s president as the venture moved into a critical time in 1962. Pennsylvania state lawmakers had passed the first of two school consolidation acts in September 1961. The 1961 act reduced the number of school districts in the state from about 2,000 to 300, and to set a population requirement for state aid.[ix] Some schools sued the state over the act, and it became a main political issue in the gubernatorial race. But it became clear that school-district consolidation was on the way.
In March 1962, the Pennridge Joint Board was forced to delay the junior high school project as it waited for state approval related to redistricting. The new junior high school would house 660 students, cost $1.8 million and be built next to the new high school. Perkasie residents opposed the addition of a $160,000 swimming pool, but the pool made the final plan submitted to the state. By year’s end, the project remained in limbo, but Pennridge Senior High School now had 1,500 students; it was designed to accommodate 1,000 students. The state approved the plans in March 1963.
A Forced Marriage
By early 1963, the Republicans and their candidate William Scranton had won the 1962 fall elections in part on the school-consolidation issue. The old consolidation act was replaced with new legislation that eliminated population requirements, but Governor Scranton announced in February 1963 that mandatory school-district consolidation was needed across the state. The revised law forced school districts to combine all primary and secondary school operations under the supervision of a nine-person school board. The school boards for the eight Pennridge municipalities would be phased out. Locally, Bucks County was charged with the consolidation plan.
The Deep Run Valley school district and Sellersville Borough had opposed consolidation in the past. And the Pennridge Joint Board received overtures from Upper Bucks County residents to join the Quakertown or Palisades School Districts. The Pennridge board quickly dismissed the idea.[x] But the Deep Run Valley school board was in no hurry to fully join the Pennridge school district. In April 1964, the Pennridge District Joint Board approved the county-proposed plan to unify the Pennridge and Deep Run districts, with several Hilltown members refusing to approve the plan until it could be studied. In May 1964, some Deep Run leaders accused Perkasie, Sellersville, and Silverdale of cutting school taxes that year, knowing that Hilltown faced a higher tax burden after the two school districts consolidated in 1966.[xi] “We think the merger should be a marriage. We are not orphans to be adopted,” said Deep Run supervising principal Margaret Seyler.
In 1965, rising school costs led to taxpayer protests after a tentative Pennridge budget with a 34 percent increase passed by a minimum legal margin at a March meeting of the Pennridge Joint Board. In February 1965, East Rockhill and Bedminster objected to spending funds to replace bleachers at the old Sell-Perk field used by the Pennridge football team. A group of 50 people picketed at Pennridge High School and about 300 residents, mostly from the Deep Run Valley area (Bedminster, East Rockhill and Hilltown) opposed the final budget at an April meeting.[xii] The budget approval was postponed until May, with the final budget reduced to a 24 percent increase. The cost increases were related to hiring 23 new junior high teachers. The discontent from Hilltown residents carried over to the June 1965 meeting, when 30 people opposed the placement of Hilltown junior high students at the old Sell-Perk High School building, claiming it was another financial burden on Hilltown taxpayers. The plan barely passed by an 18-15 margin.
In April 1965, the school merger process officially started when nine former local school presidents, including Perkasie’s Charles Apple, were nominated as the Pennridge Interim Operating Committee, with the group to be approved in December 1965. The group replaced the 42-member Pennridge Joint Board to oversee the transition process starting in July 1966.[xiii] The old “jointure” system that gave smaller school boards a big role of the school board was soon to disappear. The new Pennridge Central Junior High School’s dedication in November 1965 marked an important milestone for the school district. Lloyd “Poppy” Yoder as acting principal introduced the building to the crown. Paul Gruber reminded residents they had always supported education. “I learned long ago that people in this area are willing to accept debt to provide educational necessities.”[xiv]
The outgoing school board made several moves in early 1966 to appoint leaders for the new union school district. Pennridge supervising principal Robert Rosenkrance was named as superintendent for the merged district, while Patricia Guth was named to oversee elementary education.[xv] The board then approved occupational and wage taxes across the district, angering Sellersville, which now was forced to split its existing occupational tax with the school district.
The divisions between smaller and larger municipalities came to a head in December 1966, when the Operating Committee faced a critical decision: how would the permanent school board members be elected by taxpayers? The state law required an election method to be chosen by January 1, 1967, for the municipal elections that fall. The Operating Committee had two choices: at-large elections for all nine candidates, or the creation of special election districts. On December 2, 1966, the board was deadlocked and adjourned. The Rev. Frederick Billmyer of Sellersville, the board president, and Dr. Apple of Perkasie supported the at-large plan. William Tyson of Bedminster led the opposition. The smaller municipalities objected to at-large elections, feeling larger municipalities would dominate school board elections.
At the next meeting, the Operating Committee in a 6-3 vote passed the at-large method of voting, with Hilltown’s Dr. Warren Detweiler also objecting. Also protesting publicly after the meeting was William Hart Rufe, the leader of the Upper Bucks Democrats. Rufe complained that at-large elections would eliminate any Democrat from school board consideration, given the strong Republican registration numbers in the Pennridge area.[xvi] Rufe noted Pennridge was the only district in Bucks County to pick the at-large system.
As expected, all six elected school board seats went to Republican candidates in the November 1967 elections. But the Republicans also won 12 out of 14 contested borough council or township supervisor races in the Pennridge region that year.
[i] Allentown Morning Call. May 24, 1955.
[ii] Allentown Morning Call. November 29, 1955.
[iii] Allentown Morning Call. February 25, 1958.
[iv] Perkasie News-Herald, September 4, 1958.
[v] Perkasie News-Herald, January 22, 1959.
[vi] Perkasie News-Herald, January 7, 1960.
[vii] Allentown Morning Call. March 1, 1960.
[viii] Perkasie News-Herald, February 16, 1961.
[ix] What Can We Learn from the School Consolidation Acts of 1961, at https://sites.temple.edu/corparchives/files/2019/08/School-Consolidation-Leckrone-web.pdf
[x] Allentown Morning Call. April 28, 1964.
[xi] Perkasie News-Herald, May 7, 1964.
[xii] Allentown Morning Call. April 27, 1965.
[xiii] Perkasie News-Herald, April 15, 1965.
[xiv] Allentown Morning Call. November 15, 1965.
[xv] Perkasie News-Herald, February 24, 1966.
[xvi] Allentown Morning Call. December 16, 1966.