Fight to Save the Schools

The Bratenahl School Plan: A Unique Achievement in School Integration

by Richard Horvath, Bratenahl Historical Society)

In May 1968, it seemed almost certain that the Bratenahl School would close for good on July 1, 1968, and that Bratenahl students would attend classes in Cleveland schools in the fall.   A large majority of the members of the State School Board, in a hearing on May 13, were unwilling to grant Bratenahl an exception to the State law requirement that all elementary school districts (districts with no high school) merge with an adjoining school district by July 1.  The primary reason for their refusal was the lack of diversity in enrollment at the Bratenahl School.  The State School Board did agree to rehear the matter at its next meeting on June 11, but could Bratenahl persuade the Board members to change their minds?

After the hearing, Bratenahl School Board President Samuel Wellman was contacted by one of the State Board members and asked could Bratenahl find some way to integrate its school by the fall?  If so, then the State Board might consider an extension of the closing deadline.  While state law allowed school boards to pay the tuition of district students to attend public schools outside the district, state law prohibited the use of district funds to pay the tuition of out-of-district students to travel into a school district to attend classes.  This meant that the full cost of paying the tuition of minority students to attend the Bratenahl School would be paid either by the parents of the minority school children or by funds paid by village residents specifically earmarked to pay these costs.

Wellman met with the officers of the Bratenahl PTA to brief them on the “very pessimistic situation” following the hearing in Columbus.  He inquired whether the PTA officers thought that the Bratenahl community would support, financially, a program for immediate and voluntary integration of the Bratenahl School.  Within a few days it was reported to Wellman that the integration proposal was receiving an enthusiastic response in the community.

On June 1, 1968, a draft plan to integrate the Bratenahl School was presented to the Bratenahl School Board.  The proposal was called simply “The Bratenahl School Plan.” It was unprecedented.  The Bratenahl School Plan called for the integration of the Bratenahl School, beginning in September 1968, by means of Bratenahl residents voluntarily paying the tuition cost of minority school children living in Glenville to attend the Bratenahl School.  In 1968, the Bratenahl School cost the district approximately $100 per month per student to attend grades one through eight, and $35 per month per student to attend kindergarten.  In order to integrate the Bratenahl School to achieve a non-white student enrollment of 25%, between 35 and 40 minority students needed to be added to the student enrollment.  It was estimated that Bratenahl residents needed to donate about $40,000 per year to cover these additional tuition costs.  Adjusted for inflation, the $40,000 per year cost in 1968 would equal $295,000 per year in 2019.  Would Bratenahl residents, who already paid a relatively high tax levy to fund the Bratenahl School, be willing to pay collectively an additional $40,000 per year to pay the cost of non-Bratenahl students, students they did not know, to attend the Bratenahl School?

The Bratenahl School Board felt that Bratenahl residents would support The Bratenahl School Plan and voted to ask the State School Board for a two-year extension of the July 1 deadline to close the Bratenahl School in return for integrating the school.  At the June 11 hearing, the State School Board agreed to the two-year extension provided The Bratenahl School Plan was implemented.

At a community hearing on June 15, 1968, Wellman explained The Bratenahl School Plan to village residents.  A steering committee of twenty residents, selected by the Bratenahl School Board, would solicit funds through voluntary pledges made by Bratenahl residents.  The money would be paid to the School Board but deposited into a separate fund earmarked solely to pay the tuition of the Glenville students.  At the time, Bratenahl was a village of between 350 and 400 families. Wellman stated that this meant an average cost of “about $100 per year per family, less than $10 per month.”

The steering committee organized a team of volunteers to host meetings in their homes to educate residents regarding The Bratenahl School Plan and answer questions.  The goal was to obtain as many pledge cards as possible at the conclusion of the meeting.

The Bratenahl School Plan was original and groundbreaking.  It was described at the time as “a unique and meaningful experiment in education that will be of national significance and will be in the best interests of all the youngsters attending our school.”

The committee’s efforts were successful.  When the school year opened in September 1968, the Bratenahl School was integrated.  By the end of the first year of The Bratenahl School Plan, Glenville students represented approximately 25% of school enrollment, the participation originally sought by plan organizers.

In retrospect, the achievement is remarkable and unique.  While other public school systems were integrated by merger or court decree, often after years of contentious litigation, Bratenahl residents paid by voluntary subscription to integrate its school system in a few months.  The Bratenahl School Plan was fully funded from contributions from village residents.

Initially, the tuition funds raised by the Bratenahl School Plan were held by the Bratenahl School Board and managed by the steering committee.   During the summer of 1970, a group of interested Bratenahl residents joined together to form a non-profit corporation, called The Bratenahl School Plan Foundation, to raise and manage the funds needed for the school integration program.  Approved by the State on September 14, 1970, the purpose of the non-profit corporation was “to create scholarships to enable representative students from the Glenville area to attend the Bratenahl Elementary School.”

The Bratenahl School Plan Foundation successfully raised funds to enable Glenville students to attend the Bratenahl School and, beginning in September 1971, the Bratenahl High School while the School Board litigated the community’s right to operate its own school system.  When Bratenahl eventually lost its legal fight, the Articles of Incorporation of The Bratenahl School Plan Foundation, Inc. were amended.  On June 15, 1980, the name of the organization was changed to The Bratenahl Community Foundation, which continues to serve the Bratenahl community today.