Years of Uncertainty:



In 1928 the whole country, not just Lyon High, looked forward to a bright future. The country was booming and on a spending spree; the biggest stock market boom in the history of the United States was almost five years old. In September 1929 the market began acting erractically, but it recovered. It was October 24--Black Thursday--that the bubble burst. With the stock market crash, banks failured, businesses failured, industries closed their doors, and unemployed workers searched frantically for jobs. Naturally tax revenues also dropped, and with less revenue, government services had to be curtailed--schools were no exception. The 1932-1933 school year was the worst. By the end of March, 1933, so many schools had run out of money and closed their doors that about 335,000 children were out of school.1

The St. Tammany Parish School Board in February 1932 was looking at financial reports with dismay. Superintendent Elmer E. Lyon reported that receipts had been less than estimated. In 1930-31, $8.02 per/ child was received from the state; now the estimate was no more than $6.50 perchild and perhaps less. By May he was wondering "how it will be possible to keep schools open since creditors have first call on tax money coming in and indebtedness will amount to no less than $75,000."2

Steps were taken to cut expenses. A few schools were closed and combined with others, necessitating fewer teachers. All teachers salaries (black and white) were cut twenty percent as well as janitors and the parish superintendent. Office assistants were cut thirteen percent, and transfer contractors (school busses) were asked to take a ten percent cut for the balance of their contracts. The Board also moved that "only fifty percent of the salary due on regular pay days shall be paid, but in no case shall the amount of the check be less than $50.00." The balance due on salaries would be paid on January 15, 1933--or as soon as funds were available. Certificates or "scripts" were issued for unpaid salaries. Substitutes in the high school would be paid only $2.50 a day. However, by May, Superintendent Lyon was saying, "As far as I am concerned with the light now before us, I can see no way to open schools next year, unless we can secure teachers who are able to finance themselves for the first half of the term and will be willing to accept the best we can give them." Scripts issued and unpaid amounted to $20,958.27.3


In August more cuts were made. At Lyon High the teaching staff was reduced from thirteen to nine and a half teachers. Geometry would not be taught and probably not first year French, Spanish or Latin. Superintendent Lyon also said, "It may be necessary to decrease the length of the teaching period and increase the size of classes, and the teachers will have to work as they have never worked before."4


Objections were made to continuing the Home Economics Course at Lyon High as an unnecessary expense. Fortunately, since it was both popular and useful, serving 125 girls, and, in addition, the parish paid only $660 per year for the well-qualified teacher since the other $600 for her salary came from the federal government in vocational aid money, it was decided to keep it. The good news was that the cafeteria at Lyon High with close management had made a profit of $62.87 for the school year: this in spite of the fact that nothing was offered at a price of more than five cents. Thought was given to the embarrassment of parents of limited means in the matter of graduation dress. Superintendent Lyon thought the Board should insist that caps and gowns be worn at all commencement exercises. Rental was $2.25 for each, and if the Board purchased them outright at $8.00 at the end of four years they'd become the property of the School Board.5

None of this was enough. By January, 1933, Superintendant Lyon could see by the financial report that the schools were in critical condition. He recommended that "schools must discontinue for probably a year, in order to get out of debt." The only debatable question was when to close for that long holiday." In a circular to the Presidents of all Parish School Boards, the State Superintendant of Schools, T. H. Harris, gave the following facts:

(1) Both state and parish school funds are deposited in banks which have either closed or are operating under restrictions, which make unavailable all or a large part of such funds.
(2) It is unquestionably true that since the various bank holidays were declared and since numerous banks are operating under rules restricting withdrawals of the deposits tax collections have ceased or are very greatly retarded.
(3) No one can predict with any certainty when frozen state and local school funds will become available.6

The State Superintendent went on to recommend that schools operate for seven months unless they could afford the eight or nine month session. High school diplomas would be issued to seniors successfully completing the work in a term of seven months, and other students would be promoted. He concluded with, "I cannot say when another state apportionment will be made, or what the amount will be when one is made, for the condition of the banks at this time preclude authoritative statements on the subject of finances.7

The prognosis was grim indeed. From month to month it was uncertain how long the schools could continue to operate. However, no one was "unmindful of the injurious effects that might be caused by the suspension of schools. All we can do now, however, is to watch and wait." Somehow they struggled through 1933 even though they "had received nothing from the taxcollector for the months of February and March, nor do we know how much will be collected after April 1st. District #1 will have at the end of the year a larger debt than last year." Interest was not paid on school bonds. The "script" due April 15 could not be paid. In desperation the parishes wrote Governor O.K. Allen asking for two and a half million dollars from the state so that schools could operate for an eight month term. However, State Superintendent Harris said $5.00 per child would probably be the amount received from the state.8

In spite of everything, the schools were opened September 15, 1933, for a seven and a half month term ending April 23, 1934, a total of 150 teaching days. The schools were only closed for four holidays: All Saints, Thanksgiving, Mardi Gras, and Good Friday. They were even open Christmas week to get the most value from the teaching money. In addition, the Board resolved no married teachers would be hired unless already teaching, and single teachers who married would have their contracts cancelled.9

The crisis was over by the end of 1934 as federal money began to come in. Congress had made an emergency appropriation to keep the schools open. The School Board had asked for aid from the Federal Civil Works Administration in repairing and improving school buildings and other government agencies also gave aid and funds.10

Through these critical years the teachers deserved "unqualified credit." Suprintendent Lyon said, "It seems that the more discouraging conditions became the harder the teachers worked and the more earnest they became in their effort to put the year's work across. Their sprit has been wonderful....."11

Miss Eleanor Rayne, principal of Lyon High from 1926 to 1939, was the dominating figure and an inspiring leader. She had a commanding appearance: a large woman with reddish hair and a deep voice, a ruddy complexion and piercing blue eyes. "The best man in town," says Philip Pfeffer, 1927 graduate and then teacher at Lyon High. Alfred Dubuisson, a 1931 graduate, remembers her striding down the hall carrying her usual stick or baton. If she suspected a boy of hiding in the male lavatory to smoke or sneak a drink during a dance, she had no hesitation in marching in and dragging the miscreant out for punishment. The students both feared and respected her.12

However, most outstanding was Miss Rayne's love of education and her subjects. She taught an English class of 84, and some students returned at night for extra work. Every summer she attended Columbia University in New York and came back with new ideas for her school. Her innovative programs included correlating Language Arts and Social Studies so that the writing, reading, and research in English applied to Social Studies. The integrated program (core curriculum) in Home Economics kept the eighth and ninth grade girls for a block of three hours as they studied math and English stemming from Home Economics projects. As a result, Lyon High was recognized by the Southern Association for its special projects and was chosen as one of the few schools in the state to participate in study and research for the improvement of secondary education in the South.13


From 1928 to 1941 the School Board maintained a house across from Lyon High as a residence for unmarried teachers. It had five bedrooms, four shared by eight teachers, and one single one occupied by Miss Ryane who, in her middle forites, was chaperone. Mrs. Rosemary Barton Pfeffer, age nineteen, stayed there from 1935 to 1937. She says expenses were shared by the teachers for utilities, food, and the services of a woman to cook and clean. At the end of the month if expenses were $25.00, that was a large chunk out of her $80.00 paycheck since she had to save for summer months when there was no pay. Teachers were allowed to date on weekends provided they were in at a reasonable hour. Also, on Saturdays, the teacherage became a social center as school personnel came to the School Board offices in Lyon High to get supplies, etc., and then drifted over to visit and have cokes. In 1941 the teacherage was converted to a band hall and later torn down when a new band hall was built in its place.14

Special commendation was given to Elmer E. Lyon High School in 1934 by the State Assistant High School Supervisor, John E. Coxe, "for the interest shown in inaugurating and carrying on a program of extracurricular and social activities....helpful to them [students] in their adult and social relationships." Lyon High School along with the churches, was the center of social life for the community. Every Friday night the students had a dance with different school groups taking turns in decorating the gym and providing entertainment. Families came too, and either sat in the balcony overlooking the gym floor or joined in the dancing. Plays, too, were presented, and the teachers put on at least one play a year in additon to the student plays. Other community organizations also used the school for their dances, Mardi Gras balls, and other events. There wasn't much money in circulation, but people could still enjoy themselves.15

By 1939 the economy had improved as industry started up for the war years. Previously, teachers who were hard pressed exchanged their script for fifty cents on the dollar by going to a well-off business man in the community. However, now the script was paid off and teachers were even receiving raises. With improving conditions, Miss Rayne received an offer to be Dean of Education at Denton, Texas, and resigned as principal. Taking over as principal was Mr. James Plummer. The hard years of uncertainty were over and a new era was beginning.16

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