Appeal from the Circuit Court of Franklin County; the Hon.
RANDALL S. QUINDRY, Judge, presiding. The judgment of the
Franklin County Circuit Court is reversed, and the order of the
Franklin County Board of School Trustees is affirmed.
This is an appeal from a judgment of the Circuit Court of Franklin County which reversed the administrative decision of the County Board of School Trustees of Franklin County granting defendants-appellants petitioners' request to detach certain territory from plaintiff-appellee Sesser Community Unit District No. 196, and annexing the territory to Community Consolidated District No. 47, Franklin County, Illinois, for elementary school purposes and Consolidated High School District No. 103, Franklin County, Illinois. These three districts will herein be referred to respectively as Sesser Unit, Benton Grade and Benton High Districts.
Previous to July 25, 1963, there had been in existence in Franklin County the Valier Community High School District No. 97, which overlaid the Valier Grade School District and parts of a number of other grade school districts including part of the Benton Grade District. On that date all the territory of the Valier Community High School District No. 97 (with all underlying elementary school territory) was legally attached to the Sesser Unit. Despite this annexation two high school students who resided in what was previously the Valier High School District, continued to attend the Benton High School during the 1963-1964 school year as high school students had traditionally done in previous years, and six grade school students who have previously resided in the Benton Grade District, continued to attend Benton Grade School during the 1963-1964 school year. The record shows that for the past 10 years, with few exceptions, they had gone to Benton schools. The record does not disclose, and no claim is made that tuition was ever paid for any students attending Benton High or Benton Grade, who resided outside these respective districts, or whether there was any agreement between the respective districts involved as to attendance of pupils residing in the Sesser Unit territory attending either grade or high school outside the Sesser Unit District. There is also evidence in this record that previous to the time of the annexation of the territory to Sesser there was some understanding with reference to the territory of Benton Grade being allowed to be annexed to Sesser Unit and then detached without objection; that the interested boards of education had conferred about this, and that after the annexation to Sesser, appeals were taken, the cost of which was contributed to by people for whose benefit the agreement had been made, and resulted in the Sesser Unit District expending some $3,000 in defending the annexation, and as a result the Sesser Unit felt they no longer had an obligation to honor the "gentlemen's agreement." This evidence was presented as a result of interrogation by a member of the County Board of School Trustees, and examination, following the trustee's inquiry, by the Sesser Unit's counsel, both without objection.
On June 3, 1964, a petition, pursuant to § 7-6 of the School Code, was filed to detach from the Sesser Unit, and annex to Benton High and Benton Grade Districts slightly more than 1,000 acres, practically all of which had been in the Benton Grade District and in the Valier Community High School District, previous to the annexation of the Sesser Unit, of an assessed valuation of approximately $57,750. This petition, when originally acted on by the County Board of School Trustees, apparently failed inasmuch as four board members were present (a quorum), three of them voted to allow the petition and one voted against allowing the petition. Since the statute required a majority of all of the board (seven) to permit "action," the petition was ruled by the chairman to have failed. Subsequently, in accordance with the statute, the petitioners, through their committee of ten, filed a motion for a rehearing which rehearing was taken under advisement and, at length, granted. Acting on the record, the Board then granted the prayer of the petition permitting the detachment and annexation.
The plaintiff school district, from whom the detachment was permitted, commenced a proceeding under the Administrative Review Act. This resulted in a judgment of the circuit court, finding that the order of the defendant, County Board of School Trustees, was erroneous as "not supported by the evidence in the case and is contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence," and further finding that the County Board did not "give proper consideration to the requirements of § 7-6 of the School Code of Illinois," in that the evidence showed that "the division of funds and assets resulting from the granting of the petition would jeopardize the educational resources of plaintiff (Sesser) school district and be detrimental to the educational welfare of the pupils of such school district without any corresponding benefit to the educational welfare of the pupils of the defendant school districts, or to the pupils of the entire area." From this order this appeal has been perfected.
The Administrative Review Act of Illinois, par 11 (Ill Rev Stats c 110, par 274), states:
"The findings and conclusion of the Administrative Agency on questions of fact shall be held to be prima facie true and correct."
However, the court has power to review all questions of law and fact presented by the record on administrative review of an order of the administrative agency, and to reverse such order, where the School Trustees failed to comply with the standards required by the legislature, (Crainville School Dist. v. County Board, 32 Ill. App.2d 143, 177 N.E.2d 248), and where the order is not supported by the evidence, or is contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. (Board of Education of Community Unit School Dist. No. 323 v. County Board, 19 Ill. App.2d 196, 153 N.E.2d 378, 381.)
Further examining the record we find that both the Sesser and Benton systems enjoy approval by the North Central Association and the Superintendent of Public Instruction; that both provide bus transportation which goes through the affected area, or immediately adjacent thereto; transportation to the attendance centers, to which the various students would be assigned, can be provided with no additional expense by the 3 involved districts. The evidence shows the distances and highway conditions to be sufficiently comparable, considering modern transportation practices and methods as being of no consequence. Enrollment of the students from the territory would require no additional facilities or additional teachers.
The Benton High School has in excess of 800 students, while the Sesser High School has in excess of 250. The Junior High School in the Benton Districts has an enrollment of approximately 300 (grades 7 and 8), while the Junior High School in the Sesser District has an enrollment of 130. Both the High School and Junior High School in the Benton systems are of sufficient size to permit departmental operation and provide a potential of more diversification and more varied curricula. On the elementary level the Sesser Unit has in addition to the usual elementary program, music, art, and Spanish; in the Benton District in addition to the usual elementary program there is a guidance program, speech correction, remedial reading, vocal music, band, athletics, and a strong health program, with a language program in French. Benton has available school oriented activities such as Parent-Teachers Association, Brownie and Cub Scouts and a health program in cooperation with the Bi-County Health Board. The Junior High School at Benton has its own athletic program, health program, Glee Club, and Student Council. The High School at Benton is of sufficient size to operate a department of guidance, approved by the State Department, involving three members of its staff.
That the opportunity for a well-rounded education for children at all levels is superior in the Benton Districts is well supported by this record.
It is important to note that while the petition is in the form of a request for detachment from the Sesser Unit, the action of the School Trustees in granting the petition maintains the status quo, with reference to attendance; children in the territory would continue as they have for as long as this record shows, to attend Benton schools. While there was evidence of personal desire and convenience, there was ample evidence that it was the desire of petitioners that the children in the territory continue to have a better opportunity for a better education; the parents preferred the challenge and competition coming from a larger school system, with the increased opportunity for scholastic and extra curricular competition. In one case they wished to continue with the speech correctionist who had been aiding their son. It is evident that were the petition denied, the students involved who had started in French in grade school, would have to begin Spanish, if they desired a foreign language course, and could only return to their study of French when they reached high school in the Sesser Unit. It is conceded that personal desires and conveniences of the petitioners also influenced the preference of petitioners, but such evidence was coupled with an element of educational opportunity, and a desire for these children to continue their identification with school districts in their natural community center.
That part of the School Code which provides that the School Trustees "shall determine whether it is to the best interest of the schools of the area and the educational welfare of the pupils that such change in boundaries be granted," (c 122, § 7-6), despite the fact that such language is coupled with financial considerations, certainly does not take away from the great weight of evidence of educational opportunity and continuity in education. Work experiences and inspiration obtained outside the classroom may be as valuable as the classroom experiences, and where students may conveniently ride with their parents to attend and participate in school functions, after the bus has taken others home, or while the parents are attending to matters in their community center, are educational experiences that should not be summarily denied the children involved.
We are not unmindful of the admonitions of Oakdale Community Consol. Unit School Dist. No. 1 v. County Board, 12 Ill.2d 190, 145 N.E.2d 736, that boundaries are not to be changed by the shopping, banking, or school preferences, and that personal preferences do not control. Nor do we disregard the rule of Trico Community Unit School Dist. No. 176 v. County Board of School Trustees, 8 Ill. ...