Madera’s school bond drive fell flat

Madera County Historical Society Yosemite Avenue has always been the major route for Madera’s parades, as this 1931 Old Timer’s parade shows. In 1947, however, there was a different type of main street parade. That one consisted of more than 2,000 students and their teachers, who marched in protest against crowded classrooms.


As Christmas approached in Madera 71 years ago, they held a big December parade on Yosemite Avenue, but it wasn’t a Christmas parade. It was a school bond demonstration. More than 2,000 students, led by their teachers, marched in a mile-long procession down main street from the old Pershing School on East Yosemite Avenue to E Street and back again.

The next day’s headlines shouted, “Pupils, Teachers Here Demand Better, Improved City Schools.” The newspaper reported that youngsters ranging from the first through the eighth grades carried signs that read, “What am I worth? We want hot lunches. We need more rooms. Santa Claus can’t give us new schools, but you can.”

It was all part of a well-coordinated effort by the entire community of Madera to pass a school bond in 1947, and it would have worked had it not been for a technicality.

At the time, Madera’s school system was facing a desperate situation; the facilities were bulging at the seams. Madera’s three schools, Lincoln, Pershing, and Washington, housed more than 2,400 pupils in 47 classrooms, for an average of 51 youngsters per room.

Seeing a severe crisis developing, District Superintendent E.P. Gardiner sounded the alarm, and in 1947, he finally got a school board that would listen. Dr. J.J. Jacobsen, Kenneth Granger, and Al Barsotti agreed that something had to be done and quickly.

At the time, the state had a “self-help” program in which school districts could obtain building funds from Sacramento if the local electorate would vote for a school bond that would match the state contribution. To avoid double sessions and to reduce the average class number to thirty, the board called for a bond election to be held on Monday, Dec. 22, 1947. The voters were being asked to tax themselves to the tune of $398,000, plus interest.

Madera had experienced bond campaigns before, but they all paled into insignificance when compared with the campaign of ‘47. On Dec. 9, a huge group led by Cleo Curry, met to map out the strategy. Representatives from 19 of Madera’s civic, fraternal, social and service clubs, as well as school officials and politicians, were present. The move seemed to have the backing of the entire community, as the enthusiastic supporters were divided into committees.

Bob Dearing and William Venturi were charged with the responsibility of raising the funds necessary for an effective advertising campaign. Mr. and Mrs. R.P. James took on the task of the distribution of advertising. Mrs. Dick Brady was placed in charge of a car pool, and Miriam Munter organized a telephone pool to get the voters out on election day. In addition, Rev. Floyd Tunnell put together a speaker’s bureau, and the three school principals took the lead in the parade and poster event. It was a well-oiled machine, and it operated effectively.

The newspaper ran a front-page reminder every day, urging the voters to support the effort, and almost immediately that support was forthcoming. Groups such as the Business and Professional Women, County Chamber of Commerce, PTA, Kiwanis, Madera Businessmen’s Association, and the Madera Teacher’s Association were among the first to make public pronouncements of support. Never before had the community been so committed to a cause, at least so it appeared.

Soon, however, small cracks began to appear in the wall of solidarity. They never reached the surface level, but instead they spread out almost unnoticed to undermine the community’s attempt to gain adequate school buildings for its children. The opposition took the form of a gossip campaign, and it was quickly brought up short.

In mid-December, 1947, a stinging editorial appeared in the Madera Daily News. “Those who oppose the school bond issue are mostly those who have no children of their own and think only of their pocket book. Happily, they are in the minority ... because many who have no children are still unselfish enough to realize the importance of good schools and to want them for other children. But every city that has grown out of the one-horse stage had to do it over the moss-covered objections of its handful of backward thinking reactionaries.”

After that, no more was heard of the opponents of the bond issue, and as the Dec. 22 vote drew near, all parties conceded that Madera would soon have financing for its much needed facilities. Imagine their surprise when it was announced on election day that there would be no election!

It seems that a miswording in the proposal having to do with the length of the bond retirement resulted in the measure being declared illegal. The election was called off at the last minute on the advice of the district’s attorney, and proponents met hastily to decide what to do.

The language of the measure was corrected, and another election was set for January 1948. However, in the meantime, something strange occurred. The movement lost its momentum. The enthusiasm ebbed. Things weren’t the same; the spirit was gone.

The bond committee had spent itself. It had educated the public and had generated overwhelming support for the measure. That support built to a crescendo that would have succeeded on December 22. Instead, it fell flat on election day with the sudden announcement of the technical error. From that jolt, it never recovered.

On Jan. 20, 1948, the Madera school bond issue was finally put to a vote. It failed by 200 votes, and by then nobody was very surprised. The public mood had changed. The momentum was gone, and nothing could be done to turn it around.

The real losers were of course the children who continued to endure the unbearably crowded conditions. In time a bond issue was passed, and Madera got its needed classrooms, but not before hundreds of hours of instruction were diluted by the needless delay of adequate facilities.