Harris County Government

The Anatomy of a School Bond Election

 

From the beginning, Texas has talked a big game when it came to public education. Originally mentioned as a justification for separation in the Texas Declaration of Independence, the money was nevertheless appropriated in fits and starts. It wasn't until Reconstruction, and the insistence of "carpetbaggers",  that a reasonably universal system was created to finance free public schools statewide. A system of free schools was mandated by the State in 1871 then was reworked in the Texas Constitution of 1876. The new policy allowed for each county and each large city to establish their own school districts. Locally that meant that the City of Houston operated its own schools while Harris County handled theirs.

The law was rewritten yet again in 1884, and in June of that year, Harris County Commissioners approved twenty common school districts that would provide the structure of rural schools for several decades. Some schools within these rural districts were provided and underwritten quite informally by groups of neighbors to provide a place for a hired teacher to educate their children. Often these schools were named for the land owner who provided the location. One typical example was the Ramsey School near Crosby where many of the students would have been siblings, cousins or children from the next farm over. It took its name from its location on the Ramsey farm.

That sort of grassroots effort didn't fully cover the needs, however, so much like today, bond elections were held. In Harris County, each of the common school districts held their own. A case in point was an election held in Common School District 11 on the 3rd of March, 1916.

District 11 served the town of Hockley with three schools, two for white students and one for black. The county school report of 1913 repeats verbatim the thoughts voiced in 1910 about the districts' facilities: "This district has two school buildings and maintains a six and eight months' term of school. They have a local tax for supplementing the State fund, and each school has a library valued at about $300. I would suggest that the trustees of this district add another room to the building at Hockley and add another teacher so as to divide the work, instead of requiring one teacher to do the work of two." Note that the report refers only to the two white schools, Hockley and Hegar. The exclusion of any mention of African-Americans was the norm in most county reports of that time.

The boundaries of district 11 were reworked in 1915, and late that year, prominent residents petitioned County Judge W. H. Ward for permission to hold a bond election. They wanted to raise $6,000 to replace the wood frame school building for whites at Hockley with one of the brick designs that had been opening in other common districts around Harris County.

The denomination of the bonds was set at one thousand dollars each, an extremely high amount. Most school bonds of the day were sold in denominations of $100 or $250. The implication may have been that merchants of Hockley had already committed to the purchase.

The law demanded that County Sheriff M. F. Hammond post three notices in public places at least three weeks prior to the election. He submitted paperwork on 9 February 1916 showing that he had posted the notices at J.M. Piel's store, J. P. Rayder's store and R. Leon's store. A decade later, publication of the notices in newspapers had largely replaced the hand nailing process.

In the 1910s however, the sheriff's notices were still posted at local schools, stores or post offices. Reports show that they were also regularly nailed to a tree at a low water ford, the town filling station, or a telephone pole or fence post.

On Friday, March 3, 1916, twenty-four voters went to the existing schoolhouse at Hockley. All of them voted in favor of the school bond, adding twenty cents per hundred dollars to their property tax bill.

The turnout in Hockley appears to be rather typical for the era. A vote in Penn City was four to zero and at Deepwater a bond election in the same year of 1916 brought out only three voters, all of whom opted to tax themselves in the name of education.


by Mike Vance

School Bond Election