Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Pease Elementary's Origins Tied to the Origins of the State of Texas

The Statesman's "Politifact" column is questioning my assertion--during a  portion of a KUT-FM interview broadcast on Monday, April 4, 2011, in which we discussed the Facility Master Plan--that the establishment of Pease is in the State's 1876 Constitution. With the help of Pease parents, I've looked into the origins of the school, and I have put in quite a bit of time studying the history of public education in Texas.

From my review of historical documents, more than perhaps any other building in Texas, Pease Elementary signifies the state Constitution’s commitment to a free and public education for children. The Pease community and I are in agreement that, while Pease is not literally and specifically mentioned in the 1876 Constitution, its origins are tied directly to the origins of the State of Texas. I could have cited the statutory authority for establishing the school, but the larger picture is what is important, as is the preservation of the historic jewel, Pease Elementary School.

From its birth as a republic, Texas has had an amazing commitment to public schools. The public property on which Pease sits was designated for a public school when Texas was still a Republic. At the urging of Mirabeau B. Lamar, the second President of the Republic of Texas, the property was dedicated to educational purposes in the 1839 survey of the City of Austin, predating the 1876 (current) Constitution by 37 years.

Under Lamar’s leadership, the Congress of the Republic of Texas passed a general education law in 1839 that created the foundations of public education in Texas. That same year, largely because of Lamar’s advocacy, surveyors laid out the town of Austin, which became the capital of the Republic. As part of that survey, the Congress of the Republic of Texas set aside a plot of land that today lies on the west side of modern Rio Grande Street just south of 12th Street. This survey plot was designated as the site for a public school for the children of the new town of Austin.

The Austin Graded School opened on this site in 1876—the same year that Texas adopted the current state Constitution, and was subsequently named after Governor Elisha M. Pease. It has continued in operation, educating thousands of Austin school children ever since.

At passage, the 1876 Constitution was very clear about the use of public lands to establish a system of free public schools. The original Pease school, several blocks from the Capitol, embodied the intention of those Constitutional framers.

The State Historical Marker placed at the school site calls Governor Pease “a leader in legislation that laid the groundwork for support of public education in Texas.”

Ninety-five years later, Senate Bill 18, passed by the 62nd Texas Legislature in 1971, addressed ownership of the property, and directed that:

“The State of Texas hereby grants and conveys all right, title, and interest of the State of Texas to the Austin Independent School District in and to the property dedicated on the map of the original City of Austin as “Academy” and as “University” and located between Mesquite Street (now known as 11th Street) and Peach Street (now known as 13th Street) and Rio Grande Street and West Avenue, so long as said property is used by the Austin Independent School District for educational purposes. The State of Texas hereby specifically retains a right of reverter in said property and the title thereto shall automatically revert to and vest in the State of Texas in the event said property shall be abandoned or ease to be used by the Austin School District for public educational purposes.” (See Section 1, amended, below.)

Pease Elementary School—the oldest public school in continuous service in the state—was born in the same year as our Constitution and continues to shine as a symbol of the our State’s commitment to public education.
-------------
CONVEYANCE OF STATE LAND
CHAPTER 824
S. B. No. 18

An Act conveying and granting to the Austin. Independent School District all
right, title and Interest of the State of Texas In and to property In the
Original City of Austin for public educational purposes; retaining a right
of reverter; and declaring an emerqency. .
Be it enacted- by the Legislature of the State of Texas:
Section 1. The State of Texas hereby grants and conveys all right,
title and interest of the State of Texas to the Austin Independent School
District in and to the property dedicated on the map of the Original City
of Austin as "Academy" and as "University" and located between Mesquite
Street (now known- as 11th Street) and Peach Street (now known
as 13th Street) and Rio Grande Street and West Avenue, in Austin, Travis
County, Texas, so long as said property is used bythe Austin Independent
School District for public educational. purposes. The State of Texas hereby
specifically retains 'a right of reverter in said property and the title
thereto shall automatically revert to and vest in the State of Texas in the
event said' property shall be abandoned or cease to be used by the Austin
Independent School District for public educational purposes.

89. V.T.C.A. Water Code, § 41.004 note.
2S05