That all changed 100 years ago today. It was on July 13, 1912, that residents of five elementary school districts in the Tracy area voted to form a union high school district.
What started out as West Side Union High School District and later was renamed Tracy Union High School District became a reality — on the second try.
The first attempt to bring high school education to Tracy was three years earlier, in 1909. Voters approved a ballot measure to form a high school district, but the election’s apparent success was voided by mistakes in the county courthouse in Stockton.
Before the election, the county superintendent of schools failed to confirm that names on the petition to hold an election were registered voters. Then, after the election had taken place, he failed to certify the outcome with the county clerk. The combination of mistakes made the 1909 election null and void.
Backers of the 1909 high school campaign, headed by William Friedrich, publisher of the Tracy Press, and Dr. Joseph S. West, a former physician, turned their sights on forming a city government, and that led to a successful incorporation campaign in 1910.
Soon after that election successfully established the city of Tracy, Friedrich, West and other members of the Tracy and West San Joaquin Board of Trade started a second campaign to form a high school district.
Friedrich sold the Press in 1911 and moved to Napa County, and his place in the campaign was taken by William Schlossman, who farmed south of town.
Schlossman, West and George Luhrsen, who lived west of town near Bethany, formed the core of high school backers.
They were successful in winning support of the boards of five elementary districts to seek a union high school district. Those districts were Tracy, Jefferson, Carnegie (in Corral Hollow Canyon), Lammersville and Naglee (north of Tracy).
Trustees of the Valley (Banta) and New Jerusalem schools decided not to include their districts in the proposed union high school district.
After a petition was submitted calling for an election, county supervisors called for a vote July 13, 1912.
Before the election, supporters lobbied voters in the five elementary districts to support a union high school district.
Luhrsen was especially active in the rural areas.
“This branch of government (high school education) is, in my mind, the most important of all,” he declared in a front page article in the Press. “The schools provide the foundation of all good men and women. It is here citizenship of the nation is taught and moral standing of each community judged.”
Luhrsen noted that many students from Tracy who wanted a high school education had to take the train to Stockton and pay a fare of $9 a month, and also the cost of a street car ride, to Stockton High School each school day.
Luhrsen and other high school backers quickly learned that there was only one major objection to the proposal: taxes. A number of voters, especially in the rural areas, questioned whether there was enough assessed valuation to support the property taxes needed for a high school without creating a heavy tax burden.
But Warren Henshaw, editor of the Tracy Press, learned from the county assessor that in the previous year, valuations in the five elementary districts had increased dramatically, from $1.6 million to more than $2.5 million, spurred by a growth spurt in the city of Tracy and the dawn of irrigation in rural areas.
He also noted that property owners in all the elementary districts in the Tracy area already were already paying 5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation taxes to support three high schools in San Joaquin County — Stockton, Lodi and Ripon — that Tracy area students could attend.
The anticipated tax rate of a high school in Tracy was estimated at 15 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, an increase of only 10 cents, Henshaw argued.
And besides, supporters pointed out, there was room on the second floor of the recently constructed Tracy Grammar School on Central Avenue for two high school classrooms, so a new high school building would not immediately be required.
Ballot box success
Finally, 100 years ago today, the election was held — and the outcome, although far from one-sided, was a success. The high school district was approved by a 101-vote margin — 188 in favor to 97 opposed.
The results immediately posted were for only the Tracy, Jefferson and Lammersville districts. The Carnegie and Naglee vote totals were so small they couldn’t affect the outcome and were added later.
Voters within the Tracy Elementary School District provided the greatest support, 162 yes to 67 no. At Lammersville, the measure was approved with 16 yes and 11 no votes. It was a close call at Jefferson, 10 yes to 9 no.
Immediately following the election, which was duly certified this time around, the county superintendent of schools called a special election for Aug. 1 to select five trustees of the new West Side Union High School District.
Elected to the district’s first board were West, Schlossman, Luhrsen, Dan Bagley Sr., a farmer, and J.J. McCormack, a railroad employee. The new board elected Schlossman president and West secretary.
The board moved quickly, first deciding to hold classes at Tracy Grammar School and then hiring A.D. Tenney as principal and Mary Acheson as his teaching assistant.
Classes were scheduled to begin Sept. 11, 1912, and 11 students had already enrolled.