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"Our fellow citizens have heretofore cheerfully acquiesced in the imposition of a tax to support the government and sustain the credit of the state, of more than twice the amount proposed to be raised in the plan suggested. What improvement, internal or external, is more worthy of the fostering care of the legislature or of greater importance to the community, than the mental improvement of those who are soon to exercise all the privileges of citizens, and wield the destinies of the state. It would be an unjust impeachment of the patriotism and good sense of the people, to suppose they would not cheerfully embrace and cordially approve any reasonable measures which will reflect so much honor on the present, and confer such enduring benefits on the future."
In reference to the abolition of the office of county Superintendent, he observes:
"The act abolishing the office seemed to be in accordance with the public will, and should be cheerfully obeyed; but the wisdom and expediency of the measure must be tested by the experience of the future. The labor and expense thrown upon this office, in consequence of this legislative act, cannot justly and therefore does not form any ground of complaint with the undersigned. With the other official duties devolved upon the incumbent of this office, a personal supervision and inspection of the schools, if in any way desirable, is wholly impracticable. This question is then presented to the grave consideration of the legislature and the people of the state—are we to dispense entirely with all personal visitation, inspection and supervision, except what may be performed by the local town officers? and are we not hereafter to have any statistical information of the relative condition of our school houses? and of the condition of the winter and summer schools from year to year, showing the number of schools visited and pupils in attendance at the time? the course and extent of the studies pursued, with the ages, sex and time of the employment of the teachers, and the compensation paid? To repeat the just encomiums bestowed upon our system in all its parts, as it recently existed, and which distinguished educators and philanthropists in other states have urged upon the consideration of their legislatures, as worthy of being incorporated into their own systems, might seem disrespectful." * * * '* * '*
"Other plans might be suggested that would, no doubt, if adopted, greatly add to the efficiency of our local supervision and inspection, and take the place of that which has recently been abolished; but whether, at this time, any suggestions of this sort would be likely to meet with public favor, may well be questioned. From actual official information, obtained during the year 1846, the undersigned believed that the amount of compensation paid to town Superintendents and town officers for services, connected, with the schools, amounted to about $35,000 annually. It is not supposed that this amount exceeds the sums actually paid by the towns that year; nor will it cover the expenses of 1848, by $10,000. The duties of the town Superintendents must now necessarily'be extended, and their services increased; and the aggregate annual compensation paid to these officers will, it is believed, on a careful examination, exceed $45,000. Without j any material increase of expense, provision might be made by law for the election by the people of inspectors of schools, in each Assembly district, whose compensation should be limited, and who could conveniently perform many of the duties of town Superintendents; and thus, by dividing the labor and compensation between these officers, the aggregate expenses of both would not exceed the compensation of the latter officers."
It is due to Mr. Benton, to say that in his official capacity as Superintendent he resisted to the utmost extent of his power and influence, the retrograde movements of the legislature in reference to the supervision of the schools: that he was a firm and devoted advocate of the introduction of the free school principle as a part of our system of public instruction; and that his administration of that system was characterised by an enlightened and discriminating regard to the public interests and welfare.
The operations of the Normal School during the year 1847, tended to strengthen the confidence of the peoplein this Institution and to realize the expectations of the friends of education generally throughout the state. The number of pupils varied from 200 to 220 ; and the semi-annual graduating classes from 45 to 65. The whole number of graduates up to the 1st of January 1848, was 234; of whom 222were actually engaged in teaching the common schools of the state, and the whole number of pupils entered upon the register of the Institution was 537, of whom 421 were then employed in the district schools. Truman H. Bowen had been appointed Teacher of Vocal Music, in place of Prof. Ilslet, and Miss Ann Maiua Ostrom, Teacher of Drawing, in place of Prof. Howard.
The institution at this period however, received a severe blow, and the friends of education sustained an irreparable loss, by the death of Mr. Page the Principal of the school, which took place on the 1st day of January 1848. Although still in the prime of life, Mr. Page had attained a reputation and standing as a teacher, not surpassed in the Union. To intellectual qualifications of the highest order, he added all those moral virtues and christian graces which are so indispensably requisite to the instructor of youth. He was in all respects admirably adapted to the performance of the high functions which had been devolved upon him: and to the perfect order, system and harmony which he infused into all its departments, and his luminous exposition of the duties, obligations and responsibilities of the pupils under his charge, a large share of the prosperity, and success of the Normal School was preeminently due. Fortunately for the interests and advantage of his numerous pupils and admirers, and the profession of teachers generally throughout the State and Union, he had completed the preparation and publication of his admirable course of Lectures annually delivered before the school, on the '' Theory and Practice of Teaching "—a work which embraces a comprehensive view of the whole subject and is in all respects worthy of its distinguished author and of the great cause to which he had, too assiduously, devoted his entire energies.
The Executive Committee with great unanimity designated Prof. Perkins to supply the station rendered vacant by the death of Mr. Page. To an intimate acquaintance with the plans and general policy of his predecessor in the conduct and discipline of the school, Prof. Perkins added all the intellectual and moral qualifications requisite to its successful administration; and under his supervision and direction the institution has continued to maintain its high reputation, and to dispense its blessing over every section of the state. Administration of Christopher Morgan—Adoption of the Free School System—1848 to 1851.
On the first day of January 1848, the Hon. Christopher Morgan, of Cayuga entered upon the discharge of the duties of the office of Secretary of State and Superintendent of common schools, to which he was elected in November preceding. A. G. Johnson, Esq., of Rensselaer, was in March thereafter appointed by him Deputy Superintendent, in place of Mr. Holmes. •
On the 12th of April, the legislature passed the "Act for the permanent establishment of the Normal School" by which the sum of fifteen thousand dollars (afterwards extended to $25,000) was appropriated for the erection of a suitable building for its accommodation, and the previous provision of law applicable to its supervision, mangement and government, were made permanent. Under this act the Executive Committee have erected a spacious and convenient Hall, in a commodious location in the neighborhood of the Capitol, and of the State Geological and Agricultural Rooms, in the city of Albany, where the school is now insuccessful operation.
At the opening of the session of the legislature of 1849, Gov. Fish, in his annual message expresses his belief "that the restoration of the office of County Superintendent would be productive of good to the school system." In reference to the Normal Schoolhe observes, "This school is doing a great and good work. It has ceased to be an experiment, and under its present judicious management, it is growing in the confidence of its friends, and attracting the interest of many who once doubted its practicability or its usefulness."
From the annual report of the Superintendent, it appeared that the number of school districts in the state on the first day of July preceding was 10,621: the number of children between the ages of 5 and 16, 718,123; the number, of all ages under instruction during the year 1847 in the common schools of the state 775/723; the amount of public money expended in the payment of teachers wages during the same year $639,008, and the amount contributed on the rate bills for this purpose 466,674, amounting in the aggregate to $1,105,682; the amount of public money expended in the purchase of libraries and school apparatus $81,624,00 and the number of volumes in the several district libraries 1,338,848, showing an increase of 27,862 volumes since the preceding year. /
Schools for colored children had been kept in fifteen counties of the state, at which 4,741 children were in attendance, being an increase of 877, since 18£6, and of 2,185 since 1845: and the amount of public money apportioned to such schools was $16,926.68. In a large number of the counties, however, no effort had been made to collect accurate statistics in reference to these schools; the number of colored children between the ages of 5 and 16 residing in the state being estimated at not less than 11,000.
"The colored population," observes the Superintendent, "is enumerated in the census of the State, and is a part of the basis of the distribution of the School Fund. Colored children are enumerated by the trustees in their annual reports, they draw public money for the district in which they reside, and are equally entitled with white children to the benefit of it. In the rural districts of the State, colored children are generally admitted into the Common Schools.
"If unreasonable prejudice exclude colored children from the village schools, the trustees are empowered to establish separate schools for them. The children attending draw the public money to which they are entitled, and the trustees can exempt those parents who are unable to pay a rate-bill, the exemptions becoming a charge upon the whole district. A special appropriation for incorporated villages, only excites prejudice and parsimony. The trustees of the village will, generally, expend the special appropriation for the colored children, and the public money drawn by them will be shared among the white children of the village.
"There seems to be no satisfactory reason for this special appropriation. It cannot be justly urged that negroes are an especial burden to mcorporated villages any more than to cities, or rural districts, and that they are, therefore, entitled to an extraordinary allowance of money to educate them."
Schools for the instruction of Indian children had been established upon the St. Regis, the Onondaga, the Cattaraugus and Allegany, and the Shme- cock Indian Reservations. In that of the St. Regis 50 children had attended school during a period of nine months, the averagedaily attendance being 35; in that of the Onondaga 61 children for 11 months, in those of the Allegany and Cattaraugus, 229 children; and in that of the Shinecocks 40.
The superintendent informs the legislature that about four hundred applications had been made to him for his official approbation to the diversion of the whole or portions of the Library money to the payment of teachers wages, under the provisions of the act of 1847. "He has withheld it, in all cases, believing that every volume of a well selected library is a perpetual teacher to all who will go to it for instruction." He expresses his belief "that the district libraries cannot be too large and that the people are in no danger of learning too much
"Selections for the district libraries, are made from the whole range of literature and science, with the exception of controversial books, political or religious; history, biography, poetry, philosophy, mental, moral and natural, fiction; indeed every department of human knowledge contributes its share to the district school library. The object of this great charity was ntft merely to furnish books for children, but to establish in all the school districts, a miscellaneous library suited to the tastes and characters of every age. By means of this diffusive benevolence, the light of knowledge penetrates every portion of the State, and the sons of our farmers, merchants, mechanics and laborers, have daily access to many well selected books, of which, but for this sagacious policy of our State, a majority of them would have never heard. If knowledge is power, who can calculate the energy imparted to the people of this State by the district school, and the district library?"
Teachers^s Institutes had been held under the provision of the act of 1847, in sixteen counties, at which 1096 teachers had been in attendance. The Superintendent recommends a considerable increase in the appropriation to this object. *
, In reference to the abolition of the office of County Superintendent, the Superintendent observes:
"It is believed that the friends of the Common School system in the State, very generally desired the continuance of the office. It was, however, abolished, without petitions from any considerable number of citizens, and without even proposing a substitute.
"There is now no immediate officer between this Department and the town officers. Such an office is needed as the medium of communication between this Department and the nine hundred town superintendents, and eleven thousand school districts. The territory is too large; its subdivisions too many; its relations too diverse; the local officers too numerous; and the interval between the Department and them too wide, to permit that actual and minute supervision which is necessary to an efficient administration of the School laws.
"The undersigned would, therefore, recommend to the Legislature two measures, either of which, in his opinion, will be approved by the friends of the Common School'system,and will supply a want daily felt in this Department.
"1st. A repeal of chap. 358, Laws of 1847, restoring the office of County Superintendent, and making it elective by the people.
"2d. The election of a Superintendent in every Assembly district, except in the city of New York, and the cities which now have,or shall hereafter have a city Superintendent, or Board of Education, to manage their school affairs.
"If the latter measure should be adopted, I would recommend that the salary of such officer be fixed at not less than $200 per year, in each Assembly district, composed of towns and that the same be a county charge; that the salary of City Superintendents be fixed by the civil authorities thereof, as shall be provided in their several charters or city laws and ordinances; and that not less than $200 of such salary be a county charge. Among the powers and duties of such District Superintendent should be the following:—To make the abstract of the reports of Town Superintendents in his district, at the same time and in the same manner row required of the County Clerks; to recommend persons from his district as pupils in the State Normal School; to recommend each year two teachers in his district as worthy to receive a State certificate; to visit each school in his district at least twice a year, once in the summer and once in the winter, to make such report of his visitation as may be required by the State Superintendent; to hear and determine all the controversies arising in his district under the school laws, an appeal being allowed from his decision to this Department. The Superintendent makes these suggestions with diffidence, and only from a sense of their necessity."
The superintendent then proceeds to examine the present condition of the school law, in reference to the provision for the support of schools, upon which he bases a recommendation for the adoption of the Free School system :' .
"The mode of supporting a school under the present system," he observe ? is as follows:"
"The Trustees employ a qualified teacher for stipulated wages. At the? close of his term, they give him an order upon the town superintendent for such portion of the public money, as may have been voted by the district for the term, or in case no vote has been taken, for such portion as they think proper. But in no case can the Trustees legally draw for more money than is due the teacher at the date of the order. If the public money is not sufficient to pay the teacher's wages, the trustees proceed to make out a rate-bill for the residue, charging each parent or guardian, according to the number of days' attendance of his children. Under the present law, the trustees have power to exempt indigent persons, and the amount exempted is a charge upon the district, and may be immediately collected by tax, or added to any tax thereafter levied. After the rate-bill is completed, thirty days' notice of its completion is given by the trustees, one of whom must be in attendance, on a day and place appointed in said notice, once a week for two successive weeks, to receive payment; and during the whole of the said thirty days any person may pay to either of the trustees, or to the teacher, the sum charged to him upon the rate-bill. At the expiration of the thirty days, if all the persons named in the rate-bill, have not voluntarily paid, the trustees put it with their warrant, into the hands of the district collector, who has the same authority to collect it by levy and sale of goods and chattels, as a town collector. The collector is also authorized to collect fees, not only upon the money paid to him, but upon that paid voluntarily to the trustees and teacher, and he is allowed thirty days to make his return to the trustees. ■ . _ r
"A more troublesome or vexatious system could not well be devised,
**A teacher having performed his contract, is yet obliged, unless the trustees advance the money, to wait thirty, or sixty days for his pay. The first thirty days' delay under the notice is no advantage to any one. The time of the trustees is spent uselessly.
"Nothing is gained by payment to the trustees. Is there any other instance upon the Statute book in which legislation compels a man to wait sixty days for his wages after he has completed his work? In the absence of any contract, the wages of the laborer are due and payable, when his work is done. In the case of the teacher, the payment of his wages is postponed for sixty days after his school is closed, for payment from trustees cannot be enforced, until the time fixed by law for collection has expired.
"A slight error in the apportionment of the rates, or in the legal forms of making it, subjects the trustees to a suit by any one of whom a few cents may have been illegally collected -r and, unfortunately, there are not wanting in every town persons ready to avail themselves of such errors.
"The trustees can, if they choose, make out a tax for the amount of exemptions, and the collector is bound to collect it for the trifling fees, upon a five, or ten dollar tax-list.
"A law has been passed, authorizing courts to deny costs to a plaintiff in a suit against the trustees, and also authorizing boards of supervisors to order a tax to be assessed upon a district to refund costs and expenses incurred in suits by, or against them, on account of the discharge of their official duties.—But the law allows them nothing for their responsibility and labor, either in the discharge of their duties, or in the prosecution, or defence of suits.
"Now, a free school system may be devised that shall relieve trustees from the duty of making out rate-bills, or tax-lists, in any case and from all litigation arising therefrom, and which shall secure to the teacher his pay when his work is done.
"It may be made applicable only to the towns, requiring the cities, however, to make their schools free, but leaving them to adopt such an organization as shall be suited to their peculiar wants.
"Teachers complain of the rate-bill system, not only because it improperly withholds their wages, but because the trustees find great difficulty in exercising with fidelity, and at the same time satisfactorily the power of exempt