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People v. Decatur School Dist. No. 61

DECEMBER 16, 1963.

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS ON THE RELATION OF COMMUNITY UNIT SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1, MACON AND DEWITT COUNTIES, ILLINOIS, RELATOR, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

DECATUR SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 61, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Macon County; the Hon. MARTIN E. MORTHLAND, Judge, presiding. Judgment affirmed.

REYNOLDS, J.

This is a quo warrantor proceeding against Decatur School District No. 61 to show by what authority the school district claims to have, hold and exercise the powers and functions of a school district over certain territory known as the Argenta district, which was owned wholly by the Caterpillar Tractor Company. The plant of the tractor company occupied part of this tract, but the larger part of the tract was farmland. Only three persons resided thereon, Harold Mansfield, his wife and his four-year-old child. The petition to annex was signed by Mansfield and his wife, was presented to the Decatur School District board, and on the same day it was presented, a special meeting of the school board was called for two days later. At this special meeting the petition was read and evidence taken as to the number of persons residing in the area; that the Mansfield were qualified voters and that they signed the petition. A resolution to annex was presented and unanimously adopted by the school board. Thereafter, the State's Attorney for Macon County, Illinois, on behalf of the People and in the name and by the authority of and at the request of Community Unit School District No. 1, Macon and DeWitt Counties, Illinois, instituted the quo warrantor proceeding. The matter was heard by the Court and the Court held in favor of the defendant and entered judgment in bar of the action. The plaintiff appeals.

The Decatur School District was created by special charter of the Legislature in 1865. The charter was amended from time to time, but the amendments are not important in this case. The key question in this case is Section 16 of the charter which reads as follows:

"16. All of the territory which, at the time of the passage of this act, or any time hereafter, may be embraced in the corporate limits of the City of Decatur, shall be included and constitute a part of the Decatur School District, and any tract or tracts of land adjoining said district may be annexed to it, on condition that three-fourths of the legal voters residing within the limits of such tract or tracts shall petition the board of education to be annexed to said district, and that their petition shall be granted by the unanimous vote of all the members of said board; whenever any territory shall be so annexed to and become a part of said district, all the provisions of this Act shall be applicable to it in the same manner as they would have been if it had been embraced within the district at the time of the passage of this act."

There can be no dispute that the provisions of this section were complied with. Mansfield and his wife were the only voters in the tract so the three-fourths requirement in the petition was met. The board of education met, held a hearing and approved the annexation by their unanimous vote. If Section 16 of the charter of the Decatur School District is still in full force and effect, then the annexation is legal. But the plaintiff contends that the provisions of Section 16 of the charter as to annexation have been superseded by Article 4B of the School Code; that the Decatur School District has abandoned Section 16 of its charter; that Section 16 failed to set up such standards for annexation as would be required under the Constitution, and that there had been a change in the petition after it was signed by Mansfield and his wife.

It would seem that while many issues are presented and argued by the parties, the issues may be condensed into five questions:

1. Are the provisions of Section 16 broad enough to comply with the requirements of the Constitution as to a thorough and efficient system of free schools?

2. Does Section 16 set up sufficient standards for annexation?

3. Was the Decatur School District, operating under special charter, required to follow the procedure for annexation set forth in Article 4B of the School Code, or was the procedure set forth in Section 16 of the Special Charter sufficient?

4. Has the Decatur School District, by following other provisions of the School Code, abandoned the provisions of Section 16 of its Special Charter?

5. Was there any alteration of the petition so as to render it invalid or illegal?

Taking up the first question, Section 1, Article VIII of the Illinois Constitution (1870), provides "The general assembly shall provide a thorough and efficient system of free schools, whereby all children of this state may receive a good common school education." In interpreting this provision, our courts have held that school districts must be compact and contiguous in order to comply with the constitutional requirement of an efficient school system. Every reasonable presumption is indulged in favor of the validity of a school district established by the authority of the legislative department of government and courts do not hold a district invalid for lack of compactness or contiguity, unless it appears from the evidence that the children of school age residing in the district cannot reasonably avail themselves of the purposes of the school. People v. Vance, 374 Ill. 415, 29 N.E.2d 673; People v. Vass, 325 Ill. 64, 155 N.E. 854; People v. Regnier, 377 Ill. 562, 37 N.E.2d 186. A compact school district is one so closely united and so nearly adjacent to the school building that all the students residing in the district may conveniently travel from their homes to the school building and return the same day in a reasonable length of time with a reasonable degree of comfort. People v. Vance, 374 Ill. 415, 29 N.E.2d 673; People v. France, 314 Ill. 51, 145 N.E. 240. Contiguous has been defined as "adjacent." People ex rel. Sackmann v. Keechler, 194 Ill. 235, 62 N.E. 525; Husser v. Fouth, 386 Ill. 188, 53 N.E.2d 949. The trial court held the area to be compact and contiguous. This court can not say this ruling was against the weight of the testimony. Here the map introduced shows, in part, a common boundary. There is no evidence of any pupil being deprived of convenient access to the Decatur School. We think the requirements of compactness and contiguity have been met.

The second question is whether Section 16 of the Decatur School charter sets up sufficient standards for annexation. Plaintiff contends that the requirements that the petition be initiated by three-fourths of the legal voters or that the petition be granted by the unanimous vote of all members of the School Board are not sufficient standards by which the school board could act. It is well settled that the changing of school district boundaries is a legislative act, but this power may be delegated to the school authorities. Community Unit School Dist. No. 1 v. County Board of School Trustees of Woodford County, 11 Ill. App.2d 579, 137 N.E.2d 877. The school district created by the legislature is an administrative arm of the legislature to put into effect the will and intention of that body. Board of Education v. Board of Education, etc., 11 Ill. App.2d 408, 137 N.E.2d 721. The legislature may give an administrative body discretionary powers to decide an issue if it establishes standards under which that discretion may be exercised. Hepner v. County Board of School Trustees of Henry County, 8 Ill.2d 235, 133 N.E.2d 39. In the case of School District No. 79 v. County Board of School Trustees, 4 Ill.2d 533, 123 N.E.2d 475, it was held that the legislature cannot give to an administrative body unlimited discretion to act when that discretion is not guided by standards under which it may be intelligently exercised. This was reiterated in Hepner v. County Board of School Trustees of Henry County, 8 Ill.2d 235, 133 N.E.2d 39, and the court in that case continuing held that while the standards are general rather than specific in nature, it would be both impossible and undesirable for the legislature to draft rigid non-discretionary standards which would embrace each and every school district boundary change, for conditions surrounding the changes are seldom the same.

The true distinction as to the power of the legislature and the power of an administrative body to make boundary changes was stated in the case of School Dist. No. 79 v. County Board of School Trustees, ...


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