WSSD’s 50th birthday approaching

Yesterday the Delco Times had a brief piece that 50 years ago Swarthmore residents were suing to stop creation of the new Wallingford-Swarthmore School district. The front pages of the Delco Times fifty years ago spoke of the habits of the Onassisies, the ongoing Vietnam War and Hoffa’s departure from the teamsters, but further down the page are story after story about the school mergers. In light of the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District on July 1st, I dug through the archives for stories around the time of the merger.

From Delco Times, Feb 25th, 1972

On June 3rd, federal judges heard an appeal from Swarthmore-Rutledge residents opposed to the reorganization act of 1968. Swarthmore and Rutledge had merged back in 1953 (Rose Valley is a barely mentioned part of Nether Providence’s school district in the news stories of the time). This article states that the interim operating committee of the Nether Providence-Swarthmore-Rutledge school directors was adopting a budget. But the Swarthmore-Rutledge school board was also passing its own budget, apparently keeping alive the hope the merger would not go ahead.

On June 4th, the Delaware County school board moved forward toward becoming the Delaware County Intermediate Unit we know today. I’m not sure if this move was related to the reorganization act, but it was one of 11 county-level school boards being dismantled at the time. That day there were also anti-merger protests with 500 at the state capital. Opposition was primarily from Delaware, Allegheny and Crawford counties, probably because of the number of districts merged in these counties. Opponents were putting their hopes on a last-minute bill to delay the mergers until the end of the year in hopes of a referendum.

On July 1st, the date of the merger, it was still being fought hard. The interim operating committee, which was supposed to become the school board of the new district, had voted to dissolve itself. Residents were confused as to which school district bills they were supposed to pay, the ones from the old districts or the new one. On July 8th the state secretary of education sent letters telling the interim operating committee that its vote to dissolve itself was illegal and stated that the Court of Common Pleas would determine the school board for the new district. The letter said that because the old school districts were dissolved as of July 1st, any further court proceedings were moot.

School boards were abolished in Collingdale, Darby Township, Folcroft, Sharon Hill, Chester, Chester Township, Upland, Colwyn, Darby, Aldan, East Lansdowne, Lansdowne and Yeadon in addition to the WSSD region. Despite the last ditch efforts, the new WSSD prepared for a new school year in an August 25th article. But even though the merger was hard fought (and in fact, even two months later, still being fought), there were initially no changes as students and curriculum remained as planned pre-merger, except students wishing to attend Nether Providence High School to take advantage of the new swimming pool and TV studio facilities there. According to the article, new English courses at Swarthmore High School include: “personality and persuasion; polyglot; fairy tales, occult, etc.; humor; world religions; the short story; science fiction trilogies and the existential man.” At Nether Providence High School, classes in the industrial arts included “electronic communications, solid state electronics, power mechanics and aviation.” In P.E. they had courses like “aquatics, dance, golf and tennis, archery, riflery, flycasting, rhythms and apparatus, combatives and self-defense. “

Ironically, Nether Providence and Rose Valley ended up paying higher taxes and the much more vocal Swarthmore residents got a tax cut. At the time of the merger, Swarthmore had no school bussing, but Nether Providence bussed all students and even on August 28th the contentious issue of bussing hadn’t been resolved.

On October 29th, residents prepared to head to the polls to elect the first WSSD school directors. Running in that election is, I believe, my fellow EAC member Jane Miluski, who was running in her first election in 1971. Last month, here in 2021, Jane was written in as the Democrat’s Ward 3 Inspector of Election candidate, so that’s a span of 50 years of public service for Jane!

The much contested, and newly re-lettered, WSSD busses, from the Delco Times, Aug 25, 1971

A Feb, 1972 article refers to progress in Nether Providence. It covers much of the same information, but there’s a great deal of detail about Nether Providence High School’s new television studio’s “Drugs and Drug Abuse” marathon. The Model UN was a big hit with the high school representing Togo and the Malagasi Republic at the Model UN in Washington D.C. winning second and third place. Nether Providence High School was chosen to host the East Coast Model UN in 1972.

The article closes by saying, “Progress in 1971 was exceptional in the areas of education and community service and 1972 promises to continue that trend.” So happy 50th birthday next month WSSD.

Categories: History