Shoreline voters approve critical school levy on March 11, 1952.

  • By William Lehr
  • Posted 1/14/2002
  • Essay 3668
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On March 11, 1952, voters in the Shoreline District, immediately north of Seattle, approve a school levy in a landslide vote. The levy came in the wake of several years of burgeoning school populations, crowded classrooms, and a Seattle annexation policy that was slowly swallowing Shoreline schools. (Ultimately Shoreline will relinquish to Seattle School District No. 1 all of its schools south of 145th Street, which will eventually become Seattle's northern border.) The 1952 levy gives Shoreline officials the funding needed to begin construction of 127 new classrooms, laying the basis for what will become a highly regarded school district during the second half of the century.

The Postwar Boom in Shoreline

New Year's 1951 found members of the Shoreline School Board feeling more than a little discouraged. Organized in 1944 as School District 412, the Shoreline Public Schools had added two new elementaries (Ridgecrest in 1948 and Pinehurst in 1950) and a large junior high school (Jane Addams in 1949) to its original eight K-8 schools.

The demand for classroom space increased at a faster pace than construction, however, as two post-World War II phenomena, suburban expansion and the Baby Boom, dramatically altered the landscape of Seattle's North End, doubling its population in the first seven years of the district's existence.

Each September from 1948 through 1952, the school district gained more than a thousand additional students, including some 1,700 in September 1952. Finding housing for newly hired young teachers each fall was almost as big a problem for the district and its employees as finding space for students.

School Levies Fail and Seattle Looms

Election results made managing the demographic deluge much more frustrating. Between 1943 and 1954, the City of Seattle carried out a dozen annexations, as it slowly pushed the city limits northward from a line that zig-zagged near 85th to a uniform northern border at 145th Street. Then in November 1950, North End voters defeated a trio of Shoreline School District levies, including a bond to free up matching construction funds from the state.

Meeting on January 15, 1951, six days after Seattle had won a closely contested annexation by 30 votes, the Shoreline School Board unanimously adopted Motion 91. The motion directed the board to negotiate "the earliest possible transfer of the entire Shoreline School District to Seattle School District No. 1."

Superintendent Ray W. Howard recommended the motion to the board in response to "the many half truths and misstatements made concerning the school situation in the north end by the proponents of annexation ... and in view of the fact that this district has been subjected to continued annexation propaganda during the entire seven years of its existence, making it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to secure a coordinated community spirit."

Citizens Advise Caution

After passing Motion 91, the board adjourned to meet with the Citizens Advisory Committee, an adjunct school district organization whose members included officers of 44 neighborhood clubs and 21 school PTAs. Members of the committee advised the board not to act in haste. They pointed out that the Lake Forest Park community was considering incorporating as a municipality (which it did a decade later) and that many residents living north of the annexation line wanted to their own school district independent of Seattle.

On April 16, 1951, the Seattle and Shoreline boards, together with their respective superintendents, met in Shoreline to exchange ideas regarding the possibility of a merger. Student transportation, the dramatic need for school construction, and the possibility of Seattle taking over the entire district rather than just the schools south of 145th Street were the key issues discussed.

In a meeting with the Citizens Advisory Committee a month later, Superintendent Howard worried that residents north of 145th Street could be "left out on a limb." He urged the committee to support the board's insistence that Seattle take over all of the district or none.

Doubling Up and Tripling Up

In September, double shifts appeared at some Shoreline elementary schools. Kindergartners were divided into triple shifts. Although built to accommodate 300 students, the newly expanded Lake Forest Park School enrolled 750 pupils. To meet the demand for seats, a play shed and an old garage were converted into classroom space.

Similar overcrowding occurred at Jane Addams Junior High. Two thousand two hundred middle schoolers attended school in double shifts in a structure constructed only three years earlier to accommodate 1,000 students.

Surprisingly, the same three levy propositions were defeated again in the fall, even though 70 percent of the ballots cast were in the affirmative. The problem was a low turnout of only 5,786 citizens on an ill-chosen Saturday in September, far below the approximately 7,300 ballots required to attain the 40 percent level of turnout required to legitimate the vote.

In a meeting with the Citizens Advisory Committee in November, the board reaffirmed its decision to turn over the entire district, up to the Snohomish County line, to the Seattle School District. It could see no other constructive way out of the impasse.

Beating the Bushes for Voters

On February 13, 1952, The Seattle Times reported that Citizens Advisory Committee chairman E. G. Whiting "in effect" told Superintendent Howard and the board, "`You let us handle this. You people are school administrators, not electioneers. You lost two elections. Let us see if we can't work out a winning combination for you.'"

After two administrator-led levy failures, committee members promised to "beat the bushes" for voters. In a relatively short period of time, they recruited and trained 400 volunteers and registered some 8,000 new voters.

In the February 22, 1952, edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, reporter Charles Regal wrote, "Like the old lady who lived in a shoe, Shoreline School District No. 412 has a big problem -- too many children." Clearly, the situation was dire. The district estimated that it faced a shortage of 139 classrooms. Given projected enrollment, it would be 180 classrooms short in 1953-54.

On March 11, 1952, a large turnout of Shoreline voters finally passed the district's three-part levy with landslide majorities of 69 percent, 71 percent, and 72 percent. The district finally had the funding to begin constructing 127 new classrooms.

In 1954 Seattle's northward annexations came me to an end, bringing to a halt the piecemeal takeover of individual Shoreline schools by the Seattle district. As a result of the annexations, Shoreline relinquished all of its schools south of 145th Street to District 1, including five of its original eight elementaries: Oak Lake, Haller Lake, Broadview, Maple Leaf, and Lake City.

Four new District 412 schools were also transferred to Seattle, namely, Pinehurst and Viewlands elementaries, Woodrow Wilson Intermediate, and Addams Junior High School.

Instead of being left out on a limb as Superintendent Howard had feared, however, the schools north of 145th Street, Ridgecrest and three original elementaries, Richmond Beach, Ronald, and Lake Forest Park, together with the newly opened Butler and Morgan Intermediate Schools, formed the nucleus of a highly regarded district in the second half of the twentieth century.

In the decade after passage of the 1952 levy, the Shoreline district rode a favorable demographic wave and opened an average of two new schools a year, including Shoreline High School in 1955 and Shorecrest High six years later.


Shoreline School Board Minutes, 1951-1952, Shoreline School District Offices, Shoreline, Washington; Clipping File on the Shoreline Public Schools, Shoreline Historical Museum, Shoreline, Washington; "School Measures Win at Highline, Shoreline," The Seattle Times, March 12, 1952.
Note: This essay, including its title, was emended on December 12, 2013, to correctly state the date of the election.

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