Crowding in the South Acton schoolhouse was an ongoing problem. Something had to be done, but the townspeople could not seem to agree on a plan. In what must have been a trying meeting for all attending, at the June 4, 1907 town meeting, votes were taken on the following motions:
- To pass over a vote on building a high school – did not prevail
- To build a new high school – did not prevail
- To pass over a vote on doing something about the South Acton schoolhouse – did not prevail
- To enlarge the South Acton schoolhouse – did not prevail
- To remove the high school students from South Acton and send them to Concord – did not prevail
- To send the junior and senior classes to Concord and send the younger higher school students temporarily to available space in West Acton - did not prevail
- To send the matter to a committee to report to the Town and bring recommendations to a special meeting to be called two weeks later – did not prevail
- To refer the entire matter to the School Committee – passed.
Clearly, Acton was experiencing voting gridlock. By 1908, the School Committee decided to send the oldest students to Concord High School to finish their higher education. Many discussions, meetings and votes both preceded and followed this decision. Town meeting would vote on a motion about building a high school, only to reverse the vote at a subsequent meeting. Even among those who wanted to build a high school, there were disagreements as to where it should be located. Meanwhile, difficulties continued for both students and teachers. By 1913, the School Committee had decided to send all of Acton’s high school students to Concord.
Not surprisingly, these actions had ramifications for Concord as well. Concord raised tuition on its out-of-towners but still had more students than it could handle. In 1914, the situation reached a critical point. The Concord Enterprise (May 6, 1914 page 12) printed a letter from Rev. M. J. Flaherty, chairman of the Concord School Board, to Acton’s F. R. Knowlton explaining the situation:
During the past two years the attendance in our high school has increased from less than 300 to more than 400…. We have ample accommodations for our own pupils and for most of the out of town pupils, but not for all. The line had to be drawn somewhere, and it was drawn on the towns that would suffer the least – Bedford because of convenience to Lexington, and Lincoln because of convenience to Waltham. Accordingly at the regular meeting in January, the following motion was passed unanimously:
‘That Bedford and Lincoln be notified by the superintendent that on account of crowded conditions, no first year pupils will be received from them in the future, but that all of their pupils now in the school will be permitted to finish their course if they so desire.’
This action of ours was not at all pleasing to Bedford or Lincoln; nor was it pleasing to Acton as we soon learned from various sources. Our intended kindness to Acton caused displeasure to the three towns.
To try to fix the situation, the Concord School Committee met with members of the school committees from Acton, Bedford and Lincoln. The letter continues:
For almost two hours we talked over the situation. It was soon evident that Bedford and Lincoln wished to continue as formerly and that Acton wished to discontinue. The only course that seemed open to us was to allow Bedford and Lincoln to send their pupils and not to receive any more from Acton. Nothing else could we do when the three members of your school committee were unanimous for a high school of your own and a great majority of your citizens who were present at town meeting had voted for a high school, had selected the site and had voted for the necessary appropriation. It is true that the majority in favor of the appropriation did not have the necessary two thirds, but we were informed that another town meeting was to be called at which the necessary two thirds would in all probability vote for the appropriation…. All Acton pupils at present in our schools will be welcome to continue as heretofore, but because of crowded conditions no more first year pupils will be received unless by vote of the school committee.
This was a brave stance by the Acton School Committee given years of controversy over the building of a new high school. On May 7th, 1914, a Special Town Meeting was held in Acton. It was moved that $31,000 be appropriated for buying land and building and equipping a high school. Contrary to the confident assertions of the school committee, the vote was 160 Yes and 162 No.
One can only imagine the conversations that followed between the towns’ school committees. Acton's high school students continued to go to Concord. Acton did not actually build a high school until the mid 1920s.