APPEAL from the Circuit Court of La Salle County; the Hon.
WILLIAM I. HIBBS, Judge, presiding.
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE SCHAEFER DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Rehearing denied September 21, 1953.
This quo warrantor action, instituted in the circuit court of La Salle County by the People on the relation of the State's Attorney of that county, challenges the valid existence of Wenona Community Unit School District No. 1 of La Salle and Marshall Counties, (hereafter, "Wenona District.") The defendants, members of the board of education of the district, answered the complaint, setting forth in detail the steps taken to organize the district and asserting an affirmative defense of laches. A reply was filed, the case was tried, and a judgment of ouster was entered. Defendants prosecute this direct appeal, a franchise being involved.
The contention that the initiating petition for the election at which the district was created failed to contain the signatures of one hundred legal voters residing in the territory, as required by section 8-9 of the School Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1947, chap. 122, par. 8-9,) does not require detailed discussion. We have considered the evidence upon the basis of which the trial judge found that the petition was signed by 106 qualified voters residing within the proposed district. The evidence amply supports that finding.
The principal issue under the statute is whether the territory described in the petition was contiguous and compact for school purposes, within the contemplation of section 8-9 of the School Code, under which the district was organized. Plaintiff maintains that this territory was not a "natural school community," compact and contiguous for school purposes, that the new district invaded the natural school community of the existing Rutland High School District No. 340J and Rutland Common School District No. 100J, and that the organization of the district in effect deprived some children of an opportunity to receive a good common-school education, in violation of the command of section I of article VIII of our constitution. From the opinion of the circuit court it appears that the judgment was based upon a finding that the existing Rutland school districts, and especially the high school district, constituted "a community for school purposes which must be respected by other neighboring communities."
The territory of the Wenona District includes 87 sections of land. The district measures twelve miles east and west at the widest, or northerly, part, and it is nine and one-half miles in length, from north to south, at the longest point. The city of Wenona, the only incorporated city or village in the district, has a population of 1005. It lies three and one-half miles south of the north boundary of the district, six miles north of its south boundary, and about midway between the east and west boundaries at their widest points. The high school and the principal grade school operated by the district are located in Wenona and have enrollments of about 121 and 164 students, respectively. During the first year of its existence, the district also operated two rural schools in La Salle County. Five buses are maintained to transport students to and from school, and a one-way trip does not exceed fifty minutes in duration for any student.
The rub in this case comes from the effect of the formation of the Wenona District, and two other new community unit districts, upon Rutland High School District No. 340J and Rutland Common School District No. 100J of La Salle and Marshall Counties. These districts operated a four-year high school and an eighth-grade elementary school, respectively, in Rutland, a village of 486 inhabitants, located near the southern edge of the proposed Wenona District. At the time the Wenona District was being formed, two other community unit school districts were being organized to the south and west of the Wenona District. Each of the three new community unit districts included portions of the Rutland districts. A somewhat detailed explanation is necessary for an understanding of the situation.
Rutland High School District No. 340J consisted of 28 11/16 sections in Groveland Township, La Salle County, and Bennington Township, Marshall County. On October 30, 1948, an election was held establishing Community Unit School District No. 108 of Woodford County to the south of Rutland. As the result of this election 11 2/3 sections which had been a part of the Rutland High School District were disconnected and became a part of the Community Unit District No. 108. The northern boundary of this district was about half a mile south of the village of Rutland. On January 22, 1949, the day on which the election establishing the Wenona District was held, Community Unit School District No. 2 of Marshall County to the west of Rutland was established by election. By this election 15/16 of a section was disconnected from the Rutland High School District and became a part of Community Unit District No. 2. The eastern boundary of this district was one mile from the village of Rutland. By the election of January 22, 1949, establishing the Wenona District, 14 more sections were disconnected from the Rutland High School District leaving it with an area of 2 1/12 sections, or, as the parties state it, two sections.
Prior to October 30, 1948, Rutland Common School District No. 100J consisted of 8 7/16 sections of land located in Groveland Township, La Salle County, and Bennington Township, Marshall County. By the election of October 30, 1948, establishing Community Unit District No. 108 of Woodford County, one section was disconnected from the Rutland Common School District and became a part of District No. 108. By the election of January 22, 1949, establishing Community School District No. 2 of Marshall County, 11/16 of a section was disconnected from the Rutland Common School District and became a part of District No. 2. And by the election of January 22, 1949, establishing the Wenona Community District, 4 3/4 sections were disconnected from the Rutland Common School District and became a part of the Wenona District, leaving it as an area of two sections.
Each of the three new community unit school districts thus took a portion of the two Rutland districts, leaving the Rutland Common and Rutland High School districts with but two sections of land and their school buildings. The assessed valuation and the population of the two Rutland districts, already below the minimums declared by statute to be essential for a new high school district, were brought even further below minimum requirements.
As a result of these several elections, and the three disconnections, two sections of land were left as a small island, bounded on the east, north and west by the Wenona District and, on the south by Community Unit District 108 of Woodford County. The village of Rutland, which was not included in any of the new districts, lay north of the southernmost portions of the Wenona District, which extended south for two miles on either side of it. When the Wenona District was originally formed, the school building of the Rutland districts, located in Rutland, was only about a block and one-half from the boundary line of the Wenona District although the boundary line has since been moved, and in September, 1949, was about two miles north of the Rutland school building.
To complete the picture, in August, 1949, by an appropriate proceeding, 7 1/2 sections in Groveland Township, La Salle County, and Bennington Township, Marshall County, were detached from the Wenona District and again became a part of the Rutland school districts. There were additional later changes in the boundaries of the Wenona District which do not require description. The net result was that when the new Wenona District started to operate its schools in September of 1949, the total area of Rutland Districts 340J and 100J was 9 7/12 and 9 1/2 sections, respectively.
The impact of the changes resulting from the creation of the three new community unit districts upon the Rutland school districts was serious. Prior to the organization of the community unit school districts, there were fifty-one persons of high school age living in the territory of the Rutland High School District. There were 24 high school students living in the two sections of land remaining in that district after the reorganization. For the lack of funds this district did not operate a high school during the school year 1949-50. The students attended the three community unit districts surrounding Rutland. The 75 elementary school students living in the two sections of land remaining in the Rutland Common School District continued to attend the school in that district, but the money received from taxes and other sources was insufficient to pay their teachers. Individuals in the community cashed the teachers' orders and held them until a later date when sufficient funds would be received by the district. The Rutland High School District retained only 17.1 per cent of its original assessed valuation, and the Rutland Common School District retained only 48.3 per cent of its assessed valuation.
Plaintiff argues that the evidence is insufficient to show that the territory which was formerly a part of the Rutland districts forms a part of the "natural school community" of the Wenona District. It is urged that this territory is in fact a part of the Rutland community, separate and distinct from the Wenona community. This argument, with its emphasis upon the inviolability of existing school districts, loses sight of the purpose of the General Assembly in revising the school laws. It is common knowledge that prior to the legislative changes of 1945 and 1947, Illinois had an extremely poor school organization, with nearly 12,000 school districts, almost 10,000 of which operated one-room schools. (Report No. 86 of the Illinois Legislative Council.) It was to meet this situation and to make possible a more effective scheme of organization that the 1947 ...