Iowa Government and One-Room Schools

Cover of Iowa and the Nation
Cover of Iowa and the Nation

At What Cheer Flea Market, I found a very interesting book. It’s a text book about Iowa government and has quite a bit on one-room schools. The author is George Chandler then the Superintendent of city schools in Osage, Iowa.  Below are some selections from this 1898 book (which is in the Public Domain).

The selections below (which I’ve marked with the page they came from) explain how the governance of one-room schools in Iowa operated. Your state probably had a similar set of guidelines. How similar depended on your state and their attitude towards education. Within the text below in several places I’ve added an Editor’s Note in square brackets [Ed. Note: xxx] to help clarify some point or to offer commentary or ask a question. All such notes are my own and not found in the original text.

Sarah S. Uthoff is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation.Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, and find her on  FacebookTwitterGoogle+,  LinkedIn, and She is currently acting President of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association. Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.

Chandler, George. Iowa and the Nation. Chicago: Flanagan, 1898.

From Chapter 2 “The Township – Continued”

Page 12

School Township – The school township is a division for school purposes, and its boundaries must always

Page 13

be the same as those of some civil township. The public schools are free to all residents of the state between the ages of 5 and 21 years. Each school township is a school district, and the business connected with the management of its schools is done by a board of directors.

Sub-districts – Each school township is separated into as many sub-districts as may be necessary, and a member of the board of directors, called a sub-director, is chosen from each sub-district by its qualified voters. The sub-directors of a township are chosen on the first Monday in March of each year for a term of one year, and all the sub-directors of the township constitute the board of directors.

Township Meeting – On the second Monday in March, the qualified voters of the school township meet to transact business of a general nature connected with the management of the schools in the township. If it is necessary to build a new school-house in the township, the money must be raised by a tax voted at this meeting. If any school property is to be disposed of, the sale must be ordered at this meeting. [Ed. note: this doesn’t give an indication of what happens if an emergency arises if, for instance, a school burns down midyear and must be replaced.]

Board of Directors – On the third Monday in March, the sub-directors meet and organize as a board of directors by choosing one of their number president. They then proceed to the transaction of such business as may come before them. They allow all just claims against the district [Ed. note: meaning debts or bills], hire teachers, estimate the amount of money to be raised for the support of schools and provide for building and repairing of schoolhouses. They make such regulations for the good of the schools of the district as authorized by law.

Page 14

Officers of the School Board – The president presides at all meetings of the board and of the school township, signs all orders for the payment of money from the district treasury, and all contracts made by the board. At the regular meeting of the board held on the third Monday in September of each year, a secretary and a treasurer are chosen for one year. The duties of these officers are such as their titles indicate.

Independent Districts – Cities, incorporated towns, and villages having not less than 100 inhabitants may be organized as independent school districts In districts composed of cities of the first class and cities under special charter, the boards of directors consist of 7 members, and in all other city and town districts, of 5 members, 1/3 of the number as nearly as possible, being chosen every year. In all city and town districts, a treasurer is chosen annually by the qualified electors, at the time of the election of directors. The secretary is chosen by the board of directors at the September meeting, and he cannot be a member or employee of the board. In such districts, the directors are chosen on the second Monday and their term begins on the third Monday in March.

Rural Districts – By the provisions of a former law rural independent districts were formed in district townships, each district having a board of 3 directors, one being chosen on the second Monday in March for a term of 3 years. [Ed. note: This would remain the law all through the age of one-room schools and one-room school district decisions, including tax, curriculum, etc. were decided by these very local, three person boards. My great-grandfather served on his local one. It was nearly 50 years after this book that the so far unstoppable serge of school consolidation began by requiring all schools to be part of a K-12 district. One-room school districts were forced to become part of an independent school district with a high school, mostly in some nearby town. This took decisions (and money) out of immediately local hands. While it didn’t necessarily mean one-room schools had to close (a handful of public one-room schools in Iowa are open yet), when these larger school districts were given the choice to continue to use the money to keep one-room schools open or to take the money and spend it on something they wanted, guess which option won and schools were closed.]

Active Amish School
Active Amish School

School funds – The money for the support of schools

Page 15

is kept in 3 separate funds in each district. These are known as:

  • the teachers’ fund (which is used for the payment of teachers)
  • the schoolhouse fund (used in building and repairing schoolhouses and purchasing school grounds);
  • and the contingent fund (which is used in the purchase of supplies and the payment of incidental expenses of the school).

Nearly all of the money needed for the support of any school is raised by a tax levied on the taxable property of the district in which the school is located.  [Ed. note: I replaced pairs of commas with parenthesis and bullets in the second sentence because it was visually confusing. I hope this is easier to read. ]

Teachers’ Fund – The teachers’ fund is derived from the semi-annual apportionment which includes the interest on the permanent school fund of the state, fines and forfeitures of various kinds, and a country school tax of not less than 1 mill, nor more the 3 mills [Ed. Note: A mill is  1/1000th of a dollar and is often used as a rate of taxes on accessed value of taxable property], on a dollar which is levied by the board of supervisors on the taxable property of the county. The money paid by nonresident pupils as tuition for the privilege of attending school in which they do not reside also forms a part of this fund. In addition to these sums, the directors of each district on the third Monday in March, or between that time and the third Monday in May of each year, vote to raise a tax for teachers’ fund upon the property of their district, not to exceed 15 dollars for each person of school age, except as provided for in the next paragraph.

Contingent Fund – The contingent fund is raised by taxation on the property of each school district, and is estimated by the board of directors at the time of estimating the teachers’ fund. The amount raised for contingent expenses cannot exceed 5 dollars per pupil, except in thinly settle districts where that amount and 15 dollars per pupil for teachers’ fund is not sufficient to maintain the

Page 16

schools for six months of 20 days each as required by law. Seventy-five dollars contingent fund and 270 dollars teachers’ fund, including the semi-annual apportionment, may be raised for the support of each school in the state every year.

Schoolhouse Fund – The Schoolhouse fund is derived from the tax upon the property of any district in which a school house is to be built or repaired. This tax is voted by the electors of the sub-district or school township, and property of the entire township. At the sub-district meeting held on the first Monday in March, the electors may vote to raise a certain sum of money for the erection of a schoolhouse. If the electors at the school township meeting, the following Monday, refuse to grant any or all of this amount, the tax is levied on the property of the sub-district, not to exceed 15 mills on a dollar of valuation. As a rule, the tax for schoolhouse purposed is levied upon the property of the whole district and expended in the different sub-districts as occasion may require.


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Sarah Uthoff - Trundlebed Tales

Sarah S. Uthoff is a nationally known Laura Ingalls Wilder authority and has presented at five of the Wilder homesites, many times at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, many conferences and numerous libraries, museums, and events around the Midwest. She is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic, and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation. How can you help? Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, look at her photos, and find her on Facebook , Twitter , Google+, LinkedIn , SlideShare, and . Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and former director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.

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